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January 10, 2023

New Jersey joins states that have banned TikTok on government devices

Cybersecurity concerns with the app's China-based parent company, ByteDance, have prompted the trend. Pennsylvania lacks as statewide ban, but several agencies prohibit the social media site

New Jersey has become the latest state to ban the use of TikTok on government-owned devices, citing concerns over cybersecurity and data privacy. 

The ban also applies to a list of software vendors, products and services that present "unacceptable" levels of cybersecurity risk. They include the e-commerce company Alibaba and the instant message app WeChat.

State agencies must remove TikTok and other banned software from devices and establish restrictions that prevent users from accessing or installing them, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. Agencies also must include information about the cybersecurity risks the software presents to the state during cybersecurity trainings. 

"Bolstering cybersecurity is critical to protecting the overall safety and welfare of our state," Murphy said. "The proactive and preventative measures that we are implementing today will ensure the confidentiality, integrity and safety of information assets managed by New Jersey state government. This decisive action will ensure the cybersecurity of the state is unified against actors who may seek to divide us." 

It is unclear if New Jersey's own TikTok account will continue to be active following the implementation of the new law. The account, which has more than 56,000 followers and has garnered nearly 550,000 likes on its videos, advertises important issues impacting New Jersey residents and posts memes to a statewide audience. 

TikTok, which has about 1 billion active users each month, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese technology company headquartered in Beijing. The company has come under fire from U.S. government officials in recent years, including threats of a national ban, over cybersecurity and data privacy concerns.

In December, ByteDance fired four employees after an internal review found several of them had accessed the IP addresses and other personal information from U.S. journalists through TikTok. 

In October, Forbes reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok to monitor the personal information about U.S. users, including those who did not have professional relationships with the company, reported. It's unclear whether ByteDance went through with the plan or obtained information to surveil American users. 

"With the growing popularity of TikTok, which is known to have privacy and security vulnerabilities and presents national security concerns, it's critical that we implement measures to prohibit and shield against unwanted access of our data," said Laurie Doran, director of New Jersey's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

TikTok has been banned on federal devices since the end of 2022, the result of a bill that passed with the most recent government spending legislation. The law prohibits TikTok from being downloaded or accessed through any federally-issued device or network, unless it's being used to mitigate other risks. 

More than 20 states that have banned TikTok on government-owned devices include Alaska, Arkansas, Maryland, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia. 

In Pennsylvania, Treasurer Stacy Garrity banned its use on treasury-owned devices last month, but there has not been a statewide ban. The Attorney General's Office and state agencies that operate under the governor's office also are prohibited from making TikTok accounts or using the app on state-issued devices.

"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," app spokesperson Jamal Brown told WHYY in response to New Jersey's ban. 

In March, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin joined several states' attorneys general, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, to launch a multi-state investigation into the impacts of TikTok on minors. 

The investigation is paying special attention to whether the app's promotional material and user-based algorithm violate consumer protection laws, particularly by inducing young people into using the app for long periods of time.