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Army bans TikTok on military devices, signaling growing concern about app’s Chinese roots

Faced with recruiting struggles, the Army has begun to shift to online communications, saying that young people are now more interested in connecting on the Internet. As a result, the Army is utilizing apps, such as the China-owned video app TikTok, to reach young Americans.

TIKTOK

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 31, 2019

WASHINGTON — The Army has banned the use of TikTok, a popular video app, following a similar ban by the Navy amid growing concerns from the Defense Department and congressional leaders about its potential security risks to users.

The app, which allows users to post and share short videos, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. The Army is following guidance from a Defense Department cybersecurity awareness message issued Dec. 16 that “identifies TikTok as having potential security risks associated with its use,” Lt. Col. Robin Ochoa, an Army spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The DOD guidance recommends that TikTok be uninstalled so that personal information is not exposed to “unwanted actors,” Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

“The Department of Defense generally does not provide policy on individual social media platforms, but routinely issues guidance to proactively address existing and emerging threats,” he said.

The Army’s ban only applies to government phones, according to Lt. Col. Crystal Boring, an Army spokeswoman.

Two weeks ago, the Navy’s Naval Network Warfare Command directed sailors not to download TikTok on government mobile devices, including phones and tablets, citing “cybersecurity threat assessments,” Cmdr. David Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and U.S. Tenth Fleet, said in a statement.

In the past several months, Congress has raised concerns about the app’s potential risk to national security. In a letter dated Oct. 24 to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., requested that the intelligence community conduct an assessment on the risks posed by TikTok and other China-based social media platforms that are used in the U.S.

“Security experts have voiced concerns that China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” the letter stated.

In November, Schumer also sent a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy about his concern regarding the use of TikTok and other content platforms by Chinese companies to target and reach young Army recruits.

“While I recognize that the Army must adapt its recruiting techniques in order to attract young Americans to serve, I urge you to assess the potential national security risks posed by China-owned technology companies before choosing to utilize certain platforms,” he wrote.

In response to congressional concerns, TikTok released a statement Oct. 24 that its U.S. user data is stored in the U.S. with a backup in Singapore, and it denied that its data is subject to Chinese law.

Officials for the Marine Corps and the Air Force did not respond Tuesday to questions about whether the services also are taking actions to stop the use of TikTok.

kenney.caitlin@stripes.com
@caitlinmkenney