DeSoto County is the latest government entity to ban the TikTok app on computers, joining a growing list of governments all across the country who have taken similar action.

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution that would ban the social media app from being used on all county owned computers, tablets, and cell phones.

TikTok is a popular social media platform that allows users to create and share short videos. According to the Pew Research Center, TikTok has one billion users a month, and is used by over 2/3 of teenagers ages 13-17.

The platform is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that has close ties to the Chinese Communist government, and has raised national security concerns over the Chinese accessing data collected by TikTok to spy on American citizens.

Supervisor Mark Gardner, who proposed the ban, said it was a precautionary measure to head off any possibility that sensitive county information could be compromised.

“When the federal government banned it and then the state government banned it, it kind of raised my antenna,” Gardner said. “I read several articles on it and it appears there is a legitimate fear that a foreign government is using TikTok to ascertain information about the United States.”

Gardner said the county has firewalls and anti virus software on its servers and computers to help safeguard its data, but there is a lot of information contained on county computers about residents that is never meant to be shared or sold or made public.

“We have land records, information about marriages and divorces, deaths, births. There is just a lot of data that we try very hard to protect the integrity of that data,” Gardner said. “But the more I researched this, I felt it appropriate to bring it to the board and that we ban this from county owned devices.”

The federal government banned TokTok from being used on all government issued devices, and since then, a number of states - including Mississippi - and schools and universities have passed similar bans to block the platform. 

“TikTok’s parent company is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, meaning they can track your location and keystrokes - very sensitive information,” Lee said. “They don’t need a backdrop into county data.”

County IT Director John Mitchell said the county has about 1,500 electronic devices that would be affected.

He said the county already had filters in place to block access to social media platforms like Facebook to keep county workers from spending too much time on them while on the clock.

“We’ve always had filters in place to filter out things like pornography and certain sites like Facebook,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want somebody to walk in the door and look around and see on somebody’s screen that they are playing some Facebook game or something they pulled up is objectionable.”

Mitchell said while the government has used platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share information with the public, TikTok raised a red flag about the type of data they are collecting and who they are sharing it with.

“What they found out is that TikTok is probing the network around other devices that were on the network,” Mitchell said. “People started asking questions about why does it need to do that? It’s just supposed to be showing me funny videos. But the magnitude of the data that was being harvested about individuals who are using it that was going through Chinese servers is what caused concern. When you post a video, all kinds of information is being captured like where it was posted, who watched the videos, when you watched it, where you watch sit, and on what kind of device. It knows what model iPhone you were using and the name of the network you were on. It was going to servers we know 100 percent the Chinese government was involved with.”

Mitchell said while they haven’t had any problems with county employees using TikTok, the new policy allows them to head off potential concerns about the county’s data being compromised and also makes them a better steward of county property.

“It’s not because all of us old guys hate these whippersnappers and their TikTok,” Mitchell said. “It’s strictly a security based action. This issue has popped up again since the federal government banned TikTok and it has started everyone thinking about it again.”

Mitchell said the policy does not apply to employee’s personal cell phones and devices.

“What people do on their personal cell phones, that’s a whole separate thing,” Mitchell said. ‘But I can restrict it on our network. We have disallowed TikTok right now where it is not accessible. I don’t think they are being unreasonable not to let this be used on county devices because TikTok is not a necessary business function.”

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