Big Brother is Watching:
What you need to know about TikTok & Federal Contracting
If you are unfamiliar with the Big Brother reference, it comes from the George Orwell book “1984”. Originally published in 1949, the book is a science fiction novel that is about power and tyranny and the control of citizens. At the time of publication, Mr. Orwell was writing this as a cautionary tale of the manipulation of truth and facts and thought control. It is considered one of the best novels ever written. Fast forward to today and the social media and electronic world we live in. Reality imitates fiction in so many areas.
That said, you need to be aware of a new Federal Acquisition Regulation published on June 2, 2023. This FAR clause prohibits contractors from “having or using TikTok on any device used to conduct official business” for any federal government contract. This applies to all devices used by federal contractors to conduct official business, regardless of whether the device is owned by the government, the contractor, or the contractor’s employees, meaning it can extend to include personal devices. By device it applies to computers, tablets, and cell phones. One example of a violation of the rule would be accessing your company email regarding a government contract on a phone with TikTok installed including by your employee.
Why the rule? There are concerns about Chinese-owned TikTok and its collection of data. While there are ways to limit the degree of data collected by the app, there is a greater concern that those don’t go far enough to eliminate the ability of the app to obtain and transmit the data back to the Chinese company and potentially the government. The threat was determined by the Trump administration and in 2020 a complete US ban of the app was considered. Under Biden, the initiative became tailored to government protection leading to the current FAR rule.
This will be monitored for compliance. I recommend checking your contracts for this new provision going forward. Federal work in this case is not just your DOD level but also MnDOT and other federally funded entities. We are hearing local government entities may also be employing similar rules to ensure safe data security.
It is important that contractors create policies that address this issue. These could be very stringent policies that would ban TikTok from being put on devices or more realistically broad polices that apply to employees with TikTok installed if they work on government contracts. You need to be prepared for signing a contract with a strong policy in place. If you are currently utilizing a device with TikTok installed but pursuing or working on publicly funded work, I encourage you to uninstall the app on all devices and require your employees to as well.