Following advice from the Pentagon, the United States Army has joined the Navy in a stance against allowing service members to use the viral social media app known as TikTok. Stating that they have serious security concerns with the Chinese owned platform, service members in both branches are now barred from using the social media platform on all government devices. Previously, the platform was being used with some success by military recruiters in reaching out to the younger members of Generation Z who frequent the music based video platform.
“It is considered a cyber threat,” Lt. Col. Robin Ochoa, an Army spokeswoman, said in a press statement to Military.com. “We do not allow it on government phones.”
Sen. Tom Cotton R-Arkansas, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York began asking U.S. intelligence officials to begin investigations into whether TikTok represented a national security threat risk to the United States in late October of 2019. As a result, in mid-December members of both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy were being advised to cease using the platform on all government issued phones and computer systems, the Navy even going as far as banning users from Navy Intranet services if they had not complied with the new order.
The lawmakers argued that since ByteDance is based in China, TikTok could be forced “to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.” Later, in their bipartisan request to the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, they added that “there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request.”
“There was a Cyber Awareness Message sent out on 16 December identifies TikTok as having potential security risks associated with its use,” Army spokesperson Lt. Col Robin L. Ochoa told reporters. “The message directs appropriate action for employees to take in order to safeguard their personal information. The guidance is to be wary of applications you download, monitor your phones for unusual and unsolicited texts etc., and delete them immediately and uninstall TikTok to circumvent any exposure of personal information.”
In a response to the investigation, TikTok said that all of their stores of U.S. user data is saved in the United States and that they back it up in Singapore. “Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law,” the company said at the time. “Further, we have a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices.”
While service members are still not banned from using the platform on their personal devices, leadership in both branches of service are suggesting service members use caution on all social media platforms. The Department of Defense has released social media guidelines in the past, advising service members to remain aware of their actions online at all times.
The United States Marine Corps and Air Force have yet to comment or enact similar policies at the time of this writing.