College TikTok bans get pushback from students, educators

The news: More than a dozen higher education institutions have blocked TikTok, and reprisal from 52,000 students is imminent, per Bloomberg.

The ban follows a tightening government clampdown on TikTok, for fear that the Chinese-owned app harvests user data.

Students and educators object: Auburn University, the University of Georgia, the University of Texas, Austin (UT), Oklahoma State University, and others removed the app from school devices or blocked access from school servers.

  • Some students, who can still access TikTok using their smartphones' data plan, are against the ban and say it’s an encroachment of personal freedoms.
  • University staff also objected to the bans. “I use TikTok as an educational tool to make science fun and accessible,” said Kate Biberdorf, a UT associate professor of chemistry with over 194,400 followers. 

Why it’s worth watching: We estimated that 61.3% of Gen Z in the US use TikTok at least once a month. Additionally, 58% of American teenagers ages 13 to 17 visit TikTok at least once a day, and 16% access TikTok “almost constantly,” according to Pew Research Center.

Intensifying pushback: At least 25 US state governments, the US military, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have banned the app.

  • TikTok and the US government have been negotiating a deal to allow the app to serve US users, but concerns that the app is leaking user data to the Chinese government persist.
  • TikTok uses an American company, Oracle, to manage user data and traffic in the country but maintains various backups overseas, including in China

TikTok’s response: While it’s still embroiled in negotiations with the US government, TikTok announced it’s looking at a $1.5 billion plan to reorganize the company’s US operations, per SiliconAngle.

“We’ve made substantial progress on implementing that solution over the past year and look forward to completing that work to put these concerns to rest,” a TikTok spokesperson informed The Wall Street Journal.

Our take: Weaning students off of TikTok, either by forced bans or by educating them on the potential dangers of data breaches, will be a long and painful process that could quickly escalate into a groundswell of support for the app.

  • Governments, security agencies, and colleges are increasingly under pressure to reveal the definitive dangers of using the social video app. 
  • Meanwhile, for TikTok, the only way forward in the US may be as an IPO, but that’s a path that’s proven difficult in the past. 

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Connectivity & Tech Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the technology industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.

"Behind the Numbers" Podcast