Central Texas colleges and universities respond to nationwide TikTok concerns

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 10:07 AM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - After Gov. Greg Abbott announced banning TikTok on government-issued devices, some Central Texas colleges and universities implemented policies to block the usage of the video-sharing app on campus, while others continue to discuss possible policies.

Two of the five Central Texas colleges and universities KWTX spoke with said they blocked the app on government-owned devices.

Texas State Technical College is one of the institutions that implemented the ban on campus shortly after Abbott’s announcement. The director of communication said the college is an agency of the state, so the Executive Director of Information Technology, Shelli Sherwitz, said the college blocked usage of the app on devices and WiFi.

“We blocked it from our networks, and then we actually blocked it from our local workstations on our network as well,” she said. “Just like you have on your phone, where you might be able to limit the amount of time that your kiddo spends on different applications on the gaming app, by going into making changes in the settings, we’re able to do that at a corporate level so that any traffic going to TikTok actually is not allowed to go through.”

Sherwitz said a recent update to the terms and agreements of TikTok have been the concern. She said the new policies possibly allows the app to collect users’ physical characteristics and identification, also known as biometric data. She said this could mean the app collects face I-D and fingerprints.

“This information is being stored,” she said. “So, you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I really want a company having access to not only my location, my SIM card, my contacts, but now my biometric information?”

Sherwitz said the company, ByteDance, that owns the app is a Chinese company, which may have access to users’ biometric data.

“China’s laws are different than the US. Laws, so there’s a lot of opportunity for things to be used without your knowledge,” Sherwitz said. “In this world of cyber security, in this world that we are now living in, you need to be more conscious than ever about how you use that data and how companies are using your data...So, we all have to operate a little differently now with these new systems that are coming up.”

Texas A&M Central Texas followed policies of Texas A&M in College Station. The school stated they blocked the use of TikTok on government-issued devices, and they are working on blocking usage from the campus WiFi.

Texas A&M Central Texas released the following statement:

“Based on both state and federal orders and concerns, Texas A&M has blocked access to TikTok from state-owned devices. Additionally, we are in the process of geo-restricting all access to downloading or accessing the app from our campus WiFi network, which means students, faculty, staff and visitors will not be able to use the app when connected to an A&M server.”

Governor Abbott’s order can be read here.

Three of the schools KWTX reached out to are not banning the app right now.

University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, McLennan Community College and Baylor University have not banned the app yet. They stated they are monitoring the situation and plan on making future discussions concerning the usage of the app on campus.

UMHB released the following statement to KWTX:

“UMHB has one official TikTok account with infrequent activity. The university is currently monitoring the latest developments regarding TikTok and its usage on university campuses across Texas.”

MCC told KWTX they are not banning it at this time and have not discussed the matter yet, but it is on the school’s radar for future discussion.

Baylor stated they are keeping an eye on the current concerns across the country. The following is their statement:

“Like many higher education institutions across the country, Baylor University is continuing to monitor the situation involving TikTok very closely. We are certainly aware of the prevalence of TikTok use among our current and prospective student populations. As we continue to monitor this, it’s important to note that any decision would be one not taken lightly.”

Sherwitz said students and staff are still allowed to use TikTok off campus or when not logged onto campus WiFi.

She said she has not noticed outrage from students except a few questions concerning the new policies.