U.K. Bans TikTok on Government Devices

U.K. Bans TikTok on Government Devices

Britain on Thursday became the latest western country to ban the use of TikTok on “government devices,” citing security concerns related to a Chinese company’s ownership of the video-sharing app.

Oliver Dowden, a senior cabinet minister, announced the ban would take effect immediately, calling it “precautionary,” although the United States, the European Union executive branch, Canada and India have already taken similar steps.

Social media apps collect and store “huge amounts of user data, including contacts, user content and geolocation data, on government devices, this data can be sensitive,” Mr Dowden said, but TikTok has drawn more suspicion than that because of its Chinese owner most other company ByteDance.

Britain’s measures echo fears expressed by a variety of western governments that TikTok could share sensitive data from devices used by politicians and senior officials with the government in Beijing.

The ban, announced on Thursday, follows a hardening of politics in the UK. On Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described China as an “epochal challenge” to the international order.

The new guidance applies only to government officials’ official work phones and was described by Mr Dowden as a proportionate approach to addressing a potential government data vulnerability.

TikTok has long insisted it would not share information with the Chinese government. In a statement on Thursday, TikTok said it was disappointed with the UK government’s decision, saying the bans imposed on it “are based on fundamental misunderstandings and are driven by broader geopolitics.” It added that it was taking steps to protect UK users’ data.

In the United States, the White House told federal authorities on February 27 that they had 30 days to remove the app from government devices. More than two dozen states have banned TikTok on government-issued devices, and a significant number of colleges have blocked it for campus Wi-Fi networks. The app has been banned for three years on US government devices used by the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.

On Wednesday, TikTok said the Biden administration was toughening its stance on national security concerns, telling the company it must sell the app or face a possible ban.

Several UK government agencies have TikTok accounts as part of their outreach work, including the country’s MoD, and just a day ago Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, said the app was safe for Brits to use.

“In terms of the general public, it’s absolutely a personal choice, but because we have the strongest data protection laws in the world, we’re confident the public can continue to use them,” she told lawmakers in Parliament.

China has featured prominently in an updated security review released by the government, although Mr Sunak’s harsher language did not please all the hawks in his Conservative Party, including one of its former leaders, Iain Duncan Smith.

Questioning whether the UK government officially views China as a threat, Mr Duncan Smith called on Thursday for the ban to be extended to private devices owned by government officials, while praising the crackdown on TikTok.

This followed a decision by China in December to withdraw six of its diplomats from Britain after a diplomatic row broke out between London and Beijing following a violent clash during a pro-democracy demonstration at the Chinese consulate in the northern city of Manchester.

British authorities had asked six Chinese diplomats to lift their official immunity so police can investigate how a Hong Kong protester was injured after he was dragged into consulate grounds and beaten on October 16.

Instead, China decided to bring back the six officials, including one of its senior diplomats, Consul-General Zheng Xiyuan, who denied beating a protester without denying involvement in the incident.

Adam Satariano contributed coverage.