The University of Virginia has informed employees that they will be banned from using TikTok and other Chinese-owned social media apps on university devices.
UVa officials say students won’t be affected by the change.
“The policy does not apply to students (other than students doing work for the University). Students’ use of the listed apps and programs on personal devices will not be affected, even if they are using a University network,” spokeswoman Bethanie Glover told The Daily Progress.
An email to employees regarding the policy change comes a month after Executive Order 24 from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office took effect.
“Applications and websites such as TikTok and WeChat provide foreign governments, such as the Chinese Communist Party, with the potential to gain access to the information stored on mobile devices, including location services and browsing history,” the order reads. “As a result of the growing concern over foreign cybersecurity threats, the Department of Defense has already issued a directive to all service members to remove applications from their government-issued or owned devices.”
Youngkin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Progress.
The new policy brings Virginia in line with the nearly half of U.S. states that have taken actions to ban the popular video-hosting social media app from government devices.
However, the new changes raise questions over free speech on Grounds at UVa and across the commonwealth.
“A growing number of universities are banning TikTok. University students want to express themselves. They want to see others expressing themselves. Professors are using TikTok in class to study media and even politics,” Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for digital privacy and free speech, told The Daily Progress. “This is so irrational to block one social media but not other ones that are not comparable and it harms freedom of expression.”
Practically, anyone can work around the ban by switching from the school’s Wi-Fi to cell service or another Wi-Fi network to access TikTok.
“We are in the midst of a panic about TikTok in the absence of the federal government coming forward with evidence about it threatening our national security. It raises privacy concerns but so do many other social media companies. Students know and will bypass the rules,” Schwartz said.
TikTok isn’t unique in collecting personal data. American-based social media apps, such as Instagram, Facebook and Tinder, have all faced backlash and lawsuits for not following laws surrounding the collection of data on minors.
However, a report by Australian-American cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0 concluded that TikTok’s data-collection process was more aggressive.
As the new school year begins, UVa said it would review infractions on a case-by-case basis.
“By notifying University employees of the updated policy and the new state law, we are making them aware of the change and appreciate their cooperation and partnership in complying with the revision. The University will evaluate potential violations on a case-by-case basis,” Glover said.