A growing number of universities are deciding to ban TikTok on their university wifi. As of now, no Ohio universities have decided to join that list, but I propose ONU should be the first of its Ohio brethren to do so. The universities that have decided to ban TikTok cite concerns around network security and data privacy, while students at those universities think the decision limits their rights to use the apps they want. The conflict here, as I see it, rests upon a balance of interest: The school’s interest in maintaining network security, and the student’s interest in mindlessly scrolling through junk-food content. I posit that the school’s interest heavily outweighs the student’s interest, and as such ONU should without a doubt ban TikTok on their university wifi.

To begin with what threats TikTok poses to university network security and data privacy, we need only look at the breathtaking list of permissions that the app is granted when downloaded on a user’s device. Keep in mind, any and all of the data collected by the app can and is being used by a country that is a direct threat to our position in the international arena. The app can collect the following information even when the app is not actively in use: The device you are using, your location, IP address, search history, the content of your messages, device identifiers (think cookies), your age range, gender, biometric information including face and voiceprints, permission to utilize javascript code on your device, the content you create and post or create and delete, the visual and audio data contained in any content you create or delete, keystrokes, text inputs, and screen taps. Using just those last three permissions, TikTok can figure out passwords for the most private information we access like banking, healthcare, and tech-security software. Using the biometrics permissions, ByteDance (TikTok’s owner) can create a video of your face saying whatever it wants in your actual voice and own the rights to that video. The app is essentially malware, but full of dancing people cosplaying mental illness. 

If the university allows hundreds of users to open up their networks to this type of malware, it is only a matter of time before the Chinese Communist Party can start tracking data directly from the university’s network itself. Even if we want to say that the university has no legitimate interest in protecting students’ data, the use of the app on university wifi would allow the app to track users’ passwords to university network access and school email accounts. No one questions a university’s ability to compel the use of two-factor authentication to protect student accounts, and banning TikTok serves the same function. It is plain to any reasonable observer that the university has a legitimate interest in banning TikTok on university wifi.

Moving next to student interest in using the app on university wifi. There is none. TikTok adds nothing of value to any aspect of any human life. It is yet another waste of time that keeps us hooked to our smartphones vomiting “content” into our psyches. Even as a content creation platform, the app fails. My general critique of social media is that 99% of the content users post is not worthy of being archived on the internet forever, yet that is what happens with every dinner plate and dog in the world. That number rises to 100% when it comes to the content on TikTok. The videos are too short to communicate anything unique or informative. The app spoon-feeds content creators all the essentials for making videos outside of being attractive and promotes copying “trendy” video formats with no original content to be found. This model rewards creators who spam shallow content with views. Never mind that TikTok views are equivalent to post-WW1 German Marks, the creator gets a false sense of accomplishment in exchange for doing nothing of value. The app feeds the fantasy of having people care about what you have to say. 

From the consumer side, the endless scrolling through useless content is equally as empty. No growth is attained in engaging with TikTok content, it exists purely to suck time away from your life. The only thing the app does well is keeping your eyes on the screen so they can keep eyes on you. There is no user-side argument for TikTok as a platform outside of pure lizard-brain satisfaction, which does not constitute a legitimate interest that should be protected by the university. For these reasons, I do not believe that the students have a legitimate interest in using TikTok on university wifi.

Universities have to make hard decisions, and those decisions usually require balancing the interests of one group versus the interests of another. For these types of decisions, no one will ever be totally happy, but the rationale behind the final decision can at least be solid enough to defend. Thankfully, this is not a hard decision. As I see the competing interests in this case, the university’s interest in network security clearly outweighs the student’s interest in mindlessly scrolling through idiotic content. For these reasons, the university would be well justified in banning TikTok on university wifi if it does choose to do so.

Now get off my lawn.

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