With all the news about the United States government’s potential ban of TikTok and the ensuing congressional hearings, you might be wondering whether you should disallow use of the app within your business network. With 150 million U.S. TikTok users and a raft of cybersecurity concerns, it’s a valid question.
Let’s acknowledge that the questions asked in the recent congressional hearings could have been more insightful, and that’s putting it politely. Questions around whether TikTok uses “the home WiFi network,” and whether it tracks the dilation of users’ eyes to decide which videos to promote, did not shed much light on whether the app truly contains back-channels to the Chinese government. We would like to know more about what data is collected and how it’s used, for one.
Before considering whether you as an employer should ban TikTok use, let’s look at whether you can legally do so. The simplified answer here is “yes.” In fact, private employers are on a firmer footing than government entities, generally speaking, when it comes to potential violations of First Amendment rights around free speech. You may certainly disallow the use of TikTok or any other app or software on business devices, or on personal devices connected to a company network. You may not attempt to control which apps employees might use on personal devices in their non-working hours (assuming they’re not violating any rules such as revealing company secrets).
Why would you consider banning TikTok? Setting aside for the moment the cybersecurity concerns so clumsily addressed by Congress, even the biggest defenders of TikTok will admit that it’s very easy to get drawn down the rabbit hole of the app’s never-ending “For You” feed. In other words, TikTok can be a big time-waster, which is probably not what you as an employer are looking for from your team. To some degree, though, you could say the same thing about Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
And on the flip side, some employees use TikTok to the benefit of their employer, using their posts to bolster a brand’s reputation, share positive feedback about working for the company, or sharing insider ‘how-to’ tips for the company’s customers.
But there are reasons TikTok has been singled out by not only the federal government but a number of state governments as well. All social media apps collect personal data, but TikTok has shown a pattern of being more aggressive about it, as well as a track record of privacy scandals. As recently as December of 2022, some TikTok employees were fired after using location data to track reporters in an effort to find the source of leaked information.
And the great unanswered question is whether or not the app is truly a pipeline to the Chinese government. While suspicions persist, no one has yet produced any firm evidence proving a link.
Back to the original question: Should you as an employer consider a TikTok ban? Considering the known (time-wasting) and unknown (cybersecurity) concerns, we would lean towards disallowing its use on company devices and networks. The one potential exception would be for companies whose team members are using TikTok to build their brands and/or their customer engagement. In those cases it might be worthwhile to allow use of the app, but be sure to carefully monitor what’s being said and shared.
Questions about privacy or cybersecurity concerns for your business? Contact Hill Tech Solutions.