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U.S. House blocks TikTok on official devices ahead of government ban

TikTok has been banned from all U.S. House of Representatives-managed devices, according to the House’s administration arm, ahead of a new government-wide ban of the popular Chinese-owned video app that will soon take effect.

The House’s chief administrative officer cited “high risk” security concerns in a memo that ordered lawmakers and staff on Tuesday to delete the app from government devices, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Post. Under the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by the House on Friday, all federal government employees will be barred from installing or must delete TikTok, owned by the Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance, in the latest government measure to limit its public-sector use. Several Republican governors have banned the app on their governments’ phones. A separate bipartisan bill, which was introduced in Congress on Dec. 13, would ban the app for everyone in the United States.

The bar on government phones — which will barely scratch the surface of TikTok’s reach with more than 1 billion users globally — comes after TikTok was banned from official devices at the White House, most branches of the military and several federal agencies, including the homeland security and state departments

But people who work for the government can still use TikTok on their personal devices — as the social media app widely popularized during the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped culture, altered how the digital world operates and birthed a new language. There are more than 100 million users in the United States, roughly a third of the country’s residents.

The political crackdown on TikTok comes from concerns that the app could be used by Beijing to spy on or influence Americans. Skepticism toward China pushed by Republicans has gained bipartisan traction after news about TikTok’s security practices. On Thursday, TikTok fired four employees after an internal investigation found the workers had tracked two American journalists and their associates to see if they had been in contact with ByteDance employees.

TikTok previously called the imminent government-wide ban a “political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.”

“We’re disappointed that Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government devices … rather than encouraging the administration to conclude its national security review,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter previously told The Post. The company is implementing a data-security plan and briefing lawmakers on their proposal, Oberwetter said.

The ban will take effect once President Biden signs the legislation into law.

Earlier this month, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on a federal ban on TikTok, citing an ongoing review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive U.S. committee that oversees foreign companies that has been in negotiations with TikTok since 2019.

“Generally speaking, the Biden administration is focused on the challenge of certain countries, including China, seeking to leverage digital technologies and America’s data in ways that present unacceptable national security risk,” Jean-Pierre said.

The Post previously reported that TikTok had agreed with the committee to sever decision-making over its U.S. operations from its Chinese headquarters. The company will give U.S. authorities the power to veto appointments for the company’s three-member board and top executives and set hiring standards, according to four people with knowledge of the discussions who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the conversations publicly.

The tentative framework, the four people said, would prevent U.S. user data from being accessed by Chinese government officials or ByteDance employees in Beijing. Third-party monitors approved by the U.S. government would audit the platform’s recommendation algorithms and content-moderation systems to help prevent any foreign influence in the videos people see, the people said. The committee has yet to approve that plan.

“This is a comprehensive package of measures with layers of government and independent oversight to address concerns about TikTok content recommendation and access to U.S. user data — measures well beyond what any peer company is doing today,” Oberwetter told The Post.

Drew Harwell, Julian Mark and Eugene Scott contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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