“You are no longer able to access TikTok on any device if you are connected to the university via its wired or WIFI networks.”
So reads a notice that appears on the devices of students at the University of Texas at Austin after the school announced it would be blocking the use of the social media app on university WiFi and servers. The decision was prompted by an order from Governor Greg Abbott banning the use of the app on state-owned devices on grounds of security concerns. Students can still, however, carry a gun on campus.
“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,” UT-Austin Technology Adviser Jeff Neyland wrote in the email to The Texas Tribune.
The statement was a virtual word-for-word reiteration of Abbott’s December ban on the installment and use of the app on government-issued devices.
The app, which is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, has attempted to assuage cybersecurity concerns raised by lawmakers. In June 2022, the app announced it would be migrating American user data to Oracle servers stored in the United States. But the efforts to reassure legislators have been largely unsuccessful, multiple states have issued governor device bans similar to Abbott’s, and a nationwide ban on the app has been proposed by lawmakers in Congress.
Other universities, including Auburn University, Boise State University, the University of Oklahoma, and the University System of Georgia, have also implemented bans similar to UT-Austin’s.
While students and faculty, under the guise of their own and the university’s safety, will no longer be allowed to access TikTok via university WiFi, under Abbott’s governance they can still carry a firearm on campus. Texas’ “campus carry” laws permit students to carry concealed handguns on campus, including in classrooms.
Texas has seen some of the nation’s most brutal mass shootings in recent history, including the 2022 massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and the 2019 killing of 23 people in an El Paso Walmart. UT-Austin experienced its own mass shooting in 1966, when a gunman shot and killed 15 people and injured 31 others from the observation deck of the university’s iconic Main Building Tower. While digital security is of course an issue of concern, the discrepancy in the government of Texas’ priorities for student and public safety are striking.