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University of Texas latest US school to ban TikTok

Great, now staff and students can stop scrolling and get back to work

Faculty and students at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) this week became the latest members of a public US university to lose access to Chinese video app TikTok via campus networks.

Jeff Neyland, advisor to the president for technology strategy, notified students of the change via email on Tuesday.

"The university is taking these important steps to eliminate risks to information contained in the University's network and to our critical infrastructure," said Neyland. "As outlined in the governor's directive, TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users' devices – including when, where and how they conduct internet activity – and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government."

Students and teachers alike immediately began to panic.

Some celebrated the idea, although a cursory analysis of Twitter revealed most praise was issued for the positive effect the ban would have on student productivity.

However, an op-ed written by two professionals from UT's Center for Media Engagement in the Austin American Statesman called the ban "overly broad," said it inhibited research, and argued that the video app was important for outreach and educational purposes as many professors turn to the Gen Z favorite to further explain subject material or for class projects.

According to Neyland's email, the ban puts the university in compliance with a December directive issued by state governor Greg Abbott.

That directive not only banned state agencies in Texas from using or downloading TikTok on government-issued devices, it also directed select state resources to develop a plan to address "network-based restrictions to prevent the use of TikTok on any personal device while it is located on agency property" for implementation by February 15.

Neyland said that those seeking to use TikTok on campus could apply for an exception that would allow access on "an isolated, single-purpose university-issued device not connected to the university's Wi-Fi or wired network." Possible reasons given for exceptions included law enforcement needs, investigatory matters or academic research.

Abbot's directive requires the "narrow exceptions" be reported to the Office of the Governor.

UT Austin was not alone in its action; similar emails went out to other universities within the UT system.

The University of North Texas (UNT) has also blocked the app. Texas Tech and the University of Houston are reportedly waiting for state guidance on the use of TikTok on personal devices before issuing any bans.

Over 30 states have barred access to TikTok on government devices and many of their universities remain in the crossfire. The University System of Georgia, the University of Oklahoma, and Auburn University in Alabama are among those reported to be restricting access.

A bipartisan bill was proposed in mid-December that would block the app altogether in the United States.

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr and FBI director Chris Wray have both campaigned against its use due to parent company ByteDance's data collection policies and the app's potential use for espionage.

TikTok has maintained in the past that it is working to "fully satisfy all reasonable US national security concerns."

The Register has asked ByteDance to comment and will report back if there is a substantial reply. ®

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