Napa senator’s TikTok ban bill progresses, aims to stop cyber threats to critical infrastructure

Time may be running out on the ability for state employees to use the TikTok app on their cell phones if a bill by California Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, makes its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

The bipartisan-supported bill, which passed the California Senate on May 30, aims to bolster cybersecurity at a time when government devices have been targeted, stakeholders contend.

Senate Bill 74 would ban downloading and installing any high-risk social media application, including TikTok, on state-owned or issued equipment, including cell phones.

The ban, which is in line with a federal government device ban that pinpoints the U.S. military and Congress, seeks to reduce attacks on critical infrastructure. A state report initiated by the California Office of Emergency Services cited at least one incident last year within the state Department of Finance that involved stolen data by a global ransomware group. The state finance department chose not to comment on the proposed legislation.

TikTok, which recorded $497.6 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2023, is a subsidiary of the Chinese technology firm ByteDance, founded in 2012. An email response requested from the company was unreturned.

The concern lies with the Chinese Communist Party using a social media app owned by the tech giant to exploit user data for espionage operations, a state report on the threat assessment read.

When asked about the threat assessment of a foreign government-sponsored company owning a video-sharing social media app having access to California employee data, Dodd was steadfast about the reason he introduced it in January.

“You would absolutely be amazed (by the threat). It’s happened to both the private and public sectors,” he said. “It’s time for California to act.”

Other implications

If it passes, Dodd didn’t rule out possibly expanding the prohibition beyond government offices.

“For now, this is a good first step. But what we don’t want to do is overreact,” he said.

If the ban should expand, there is the argument that certain entities or individuals could be missing out on a valuable marketing tool.

The California Department of Real Estate licenses real estate brokers and salespeople. Agents use TikTok as a tool to show houses.

“We’ve seen Realtors use it as a marketing tool. They use it to get in touch with Gen Z,” California Association of Realtors economist Oscar Wei said, referring to those in the 8- to 23-year-old age group. “If a bill applies to everyone, I think you’ll hear some complaining.”

Locally, eight-year real estate agent Michael Ferl of W Real Estate brokerage firm in Santa Rosa uses TikTok on a regular basis to show homes.

“TikTok has become one of the fastest growing social platforms,” Ferl said. “We are always looking for new ways to separate ourselves from our competition. One of the ways we do that is by giving buyers and sellers insider information about the industry, so that they can make more informed decisions for themselves.”

Ferl emphasized how it took him awhile to figure out the social media platform has more to offer than teen dance numbers and hidden talents.

So what will the company need to prove in order to operate in the United States?

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled by a congressional committee in March about whether measures are in place to avert cyber threats and attacks.

The federal government fears Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to surrender Americans’ data. The TikTok chief pledged to protect U.S. data, made easier by storing it on servers operated by Oracle Corp., an American company, the Associated Press reported.

Management at the Austin, Texas-based company has declined to comment about the program called “Project Texas,” despite multiple inquiries.

Montana was the first to issue a statewide ban, to take effect in January 2024. The state already is facing a lawsuit by five TikTok creators, with the company footing the legal bills.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. She can be reached at 530-545-8662 or

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