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UT Austin, Texas A&M Block TikTok on Networks and Devices

Following Gov. Greg Abbott's order banning state employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices, more universities are taking action, citing fears that the Chinese government is harvesting customers' data.

TikTok logo on a smartphone in front of the flag of the People's Republic of China.
(TNS) — The University of Texas at Austin on Tuesday blocked access to TikTok on its Wi-Fi networks and Texas A&M University is following suit, marking the latest in statewide efforts to crack down on the content-sharing app over cybersecurity concerns.

UT administrators informed students of the change in an email, citing Gov. Greg Abbott's order banning state employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices.

In the directive, Abbott had also instructed the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to develop a model plan for agencies to regulate the use of TikTok on personal devices — including by placing network-based restrictions on the app while any devices are on state property. State agencies, which include public universities, were told to create their own policies based off of the model plan by Feb. 15.

Texas A&M System and Texas Southern University spokespeople also confirmed in that officials are in the process of restricting TikTok access while on campus Wi-Fi.

"Based on both state and federal orders and concerns, Texas A&M has blocked access to TikTok from state-owned devices," an A&M statement reads. "Additionally, as instructed by the Governor we are in the process of putting in place network based filtering that will block both wireless and wired access to downloading or accessing the app from our campus network, which means students, faculty, staff and visitors will not be able to use the app when connected to an A&M network."

"In accordance with Governor Greg Abbott's directive, Texas Southern University will prohibit Tik Tok on university Wi-Fi, networks and state-issued devices, including cell phones, laptops and desktop computers," the institution's statement reads. "The policy will be fully implemented according to the given deadline of February 15th."

The network changes will mostly affect college-age students who tend to use the app, although TikTok should still be accessible on personal devices that are not connected to UT or A&M's wireless networks.

TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown criticized the widespread directives to block the social media platform on Tuesday, saying that political pressures have led dozens of states of to put such bans in place. Federal security officials have also expressed concerns with the app.

"We're disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok," Brown said. "We're especially sorry to see the unintended consequences of these rushed policies beginning to impact universities' ability to share information, recruit students, and build communities around athletic teams, student groups, campus publications, and more."

The initial Texas ban preventing the use of TikTok on government-owned devices related to employees and ultimately altered university operations. Professors who create viral instructional TikTok posts, sports programs and admissions offices are no longer able to use the platform for educational purposes or recruitment.

Abbott follows several other Republican state leaders in issuing bans of the app on government devices, stemming from fears that the Chinese government is harvesting customers' data. The governor has warned that TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that is required to comply with any potential requests from its government to hand over data.

Several universities last month announced that they would follow Abbott's directive, including by searching and removing TikTok from the university-owned devices.

The University of Houston, which implemented the ban on government-owned devices last month, has not made any changes to its wireless networks related to the order and is awaiting state guidance, officials said.

©2023 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.