U.S. Army Bans Popular Social Media App TikTok After Pentagon Brands It a 'Cyber Threat'
The ban follows the U.S. Navy's measure to prohibit use of TikTok on government-issued phones earlier this month
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Robin Ochoa told Military.com in an interview published on Monday that the app — which is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance — is “considered a cyber threat” and that they “do not allow it on government phones.”
Previously, Army recruiters had been using TikTok, which is used by millions to share videos of everything from dancing and lip-syncing to various viral jokes, as a tool to reach young people of Generation Z.
Representatives for the TikTok and ByteDance did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
The measure comes after the U.S. Navy similarly prohibited the use of TikTok on government phones earlier this month, according to Reuters.
Reuters reported that a bulletin issued by the Navy said users of government-issued mobile devices who had TikTok and did not remove the app would be blocked from the Navy and Marine Corps Intranet.
Though the bulletin reportedly did not state explicitly what dangers the app presents, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland said in a statement the order was part of an effort to “address existing and emerging threats.”
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On Dec. 16, the Defense Information Systems Agency also released a cyber awareness message recommending that all employees of the Defense Department not use the app as it could expose personal user data to “unwanted actors,” according to the Washington Post.
Lt. Col. Crystal Boring confirmed to PEOPLE that the Army is following the message that was sent out.
“The message directs appropriate action for employees to take in order to safeguard their personal information,” Boring said in a statement. “The guidance is to be wary of applications you download, monitor your phones for unusual and unsolicited texts etc. and delete them immediately and uninstall TikTok to circumvent any exposure of personal information.”
In November, a class-action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by college student Misty Hong against TikTok and ByteDance.
The suit, obtained by Courthouse News, accused the app of storing and sending “vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data” to servers in China as recently as April.
That information was then allegedly used to target users with advertising that was more efficient and effective. TikTok maintained that it “stores all U.S. user data in the United States with backups in Singapore,” according to Reuters.
The same month, NBC News reported that the U.S. government had opened a security risk assessment of TikTok after Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, and Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, sent a letter to the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire in October asking him to assess TikTok and other China-based companies for potential security risks.
Though the ban does not prevent the use of TikTok on personal phones, Ochoa told Military.com that soldiers are advised to “use caution if they receive random or unfamiliar text messages.”
It is not yet clear whether the Air Force or Marine Corps will follow suit with the ban.