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University bans use of TikTok and WeChat by University employees

Students wonder at implementation of policy

<p>Students are also permitted to continue use of the restricted apps, except for those working for the University as either student workers or representatives of agency and special status organizations</p>

Students are also permitted to continue use of the restricted apps, except for those working for the University as either student workers or representatives of agency and special status organizations

In compliance with Virginia law, University employees — including contracted and student workers — will no longer have access to TikTok and WeChat on University-issued devices or University networks, according to an email sent to the University community Friday. The law follows years of concern over data privacy and national security risks from the Chinese-owned apps. 

University employees must delete TikTok and WeChat — in addition to others like Douyin, Capcut and Hypic developed by Chinese-owned ByteDance Ltd. or Tencent Holdings Ltd.— from all University-issued devices. Employees may not access these apps on personal devices if they are using University networks. 

The policy does not extend to employees’ personally-owned devices unless those devices are connected to University networks. Students are also permitted to continue use of the restricted apps, except for those working for the University as either student workers or representatives of agency and special status organizations — this covers a number of organizations on Grounds including resident advisors, members of the Honor Committee, Student Council members and members of the University Guide Service. 

University spokesperson Bethanie Glover noted that the policy only applies to student workers and those in agency or special status organizations while they are doing work for the University on University-issued devices or University networks. 

“By notifying University employees of the updated policy and the new state law, we are making them aware of the change and appreciate their cooperation and partnership in complying with the revision,” Glover said. “The University will evaluate potential violations on a case-by-case basis.” 

Employees who violate the new restrictions “may be subject to appropriate disciplinary action,” per the email. The University did not provide specifics as to how individual devices would be monitored or what specific consequences might result after violations of this policy. 

Dana German, interim vice president and chief information officer said in the email statement that the new law may affect international communications at the University. 

“The University retains a broad suite of communications tools for official business, such as Zoom, with which community members will still be able to engage virtually everywhere in the world unimpeded,” German said. 

While the federal government has not issued a formal ban, several other states have also  issued restrictions on TikTok such as Georgia, New Hampshire and Idaho. TikTok — the entertainment app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance — has grown tremendously in recent years, even reaching 150 million active United States users in March. 

According to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the law protects the state from threats to data privacy and security from the Chinese Communist Party. 

“We are taking this step today to secure state government devices and wireless networks from the threat of infiltration and ensure that we safeguard the data and cybersecurity of state government,” Youngkin said in a statement announcing the ban. 

Third-year College student Tyler English, who has worked in both admissions and at U.Va. Health, said that he is concerned about the policy’s impact on student workers. Notably, WeChat is used by many students for communication with family both at home and abroad, meaning that the ban affects the student and their family according to English. 

“On personal data or hotspots, [the] connection can be very spotty at the University,” English said. “So it kind of makes me wonder how they are going to communicate effectively back home.”

Though he doesn’t use WeChat personally, English said he uses TikTok regularly — often for career or educational purposes — and that this change will drastically affect how and where he gets information.

In regards to moving forward with the ban in place, Tichara Robertson, Student Council president and fourth-year College student, said that speaking with the University to better understand the policy will be important. Robertson said that she hopes to work with the administration to reduce the ban’s impact on students, explore how disciplinary actions will be exercised and understand how violations will be detected.

“How is this going to be monitored?” Robertson said. “[Is the University] going to pay greater attention to people’s personal devices when they’re on the [school] network now?”

Robertson noted that this policy is exemplary of a unique challenge faced by public university students.

“I think this is something a lot of students at public universities have to contend with,” Robertson said. “Where, because of the political world, a lot of our daily habits have to change, in small and big ways.”

Questions about the new policy may be directed to policy@virginia.edu

Questions about the new policy may be directed to policy@virginia.edu

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