A version of this story originally appeared on KUT.org.
Schools in at least two Texas university systems, including the University of North Texas, have now banned the use of TikTok over wired or WiFi networks following a directive from Gov. Greg Abbott last month.
AT Letter dated 7 December The Republican governor told state agencies that the app poses a security risk to Texas information and critical infrastructure. He ordered agencies to ban employees from downloading TikTok on any government-owned devices, including mobile phones, laptops, tablets and desktops.
UNT, which includes schools in Denton and south Dallas, confirmed the news in a statement to KERA on Tuesday.
“As a result of Governor Abbott’s directive to all state agencies banning employees from using or downloading TikTok on all government-owned or managed devices and environments, the UNT system immediately began implementing multiple controls across all of its campuses and locations,” read the school’s statement: “These actions include using endpoint configuration management tools as well as blocking access through our networks.”
The school added that it will monitor “any further changes and requirements set out by the Governor’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, or the Texas Information Resources Department to ensure our continued compliance.”
Schools in the University of Texas system will also block the app on their networks, and UT Austin, Arlington, and Dallas confirmed the policy on Tuesday.
“As outlined in the Governor’s directive, TikTok collects massive amounts of data from its users’ devices, including when, where and how they engage in online activity, and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” said Jeff Neiland, an adviser to UT. president of technology strategy, wrote to UT staff and students.
The decision of the two universities to block the app on their networks caused mixed reactions from students.
Isabella Brogna, 20, was working on an additional loan assignment on UT’s Austin campus Tuesday morning. The advertiser said she doesn’t use TikTok, but she has many friends who use it.
“Some of them think it’s really funny and they say, ‘Go! Let’s do it,” she said. “And some of them are like, ‘No, what should I do between classes now?’
Sophia’s roommate Abello was one of those angered by the university’s new policies.
“[She] came to our dorm and said, “Did you know they banned TikTok? Now I’ll have to use cellular [data].’”
Abello, 18, said she thought the policy could help her and her classmates focus more.
“There are some people who are actually a bit obsessed with TikTok,” said Abello, who made a New Year’s resolution to use the app less. “People tend to stop every 5 minutes and watch TikTok.”
TikTok, which has tens of millions of users in the US, is owned by China’s ByteDance Ltd. FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed concern about the national security app. While Speaking at the University of Michigan last month, he said the Chinese government could use it to collect data on and influence US users.
“All these things are in the hands of a government that does not share our values and that has a mission that is very different from what is in the interests of the United States,” he said. “That should worry us.
President Joe Biden also approved a limited ban on TikTok when he signed the spending bill in late December. It prohibits federal government employees from using the app on agency-issued devices.
TikTok has released a statement saying it is disappointed with the government’s ban. The company also announced it has taken extra steps to protect personal data from US users.
Texas, according to CNN analysis, is one of more than 30 states that have restricted access to TikTok on government devices. UT, for its part, said the TikTok ban would remove risks to the university network and critical infrastructure.
UT is also working on employee personal device policy at the request of the Governor. University expects additional guidance on whether to impose restrictions on personal devices by February 15th.