The UK on Thursday became the latest to ban the Chinese social media app TikTok on government devices, following similar moves by Belgium, the EU, Canada, and the United States.
It also comes after TikTok said it’s facing a total ban in the United States unless the company’s Beijing-based parent ByteDance sells its stake.
Announcing the ban in parliament, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said the decision is based on an official review, which concluded that “it is clear that there could be a risk around how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms.”
“Social media apps collect and store huge amounts of user data, including contacts, user content, and geolocation data. On government devices, that data can be sensitive,” the minister said.
The TikTok ban applies to government corporate devices within ministerial and non-ministerial departments, but not personal devices.
“Very limited exemptions” can be granted when it’s required for operational reasons by security teams on a case-by-case basis, with ministerial clearance provided as appropriate, he added.
Access to third-party apps will also be limited to a list of pre-approved apps. Dowden said the measure has already been in use in some departments and will now be rolled out to all government departments, agencies, and arms-length bodies.
Asked about the devolved administrations, Dowden responded to deputy opposition leader Angela Rayner that he had written to the leaders in Scotland and Wales and “the appropriate officials in Northern Ireland,” regarding the matter.
He also said the government is updating the guidance on non-corporate communications to ensure a consistent approach across the government.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, a co-founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, urged the government to go further and ban TikTok on ministers’ and senior officials’ private devices because they are and “will be” used for government businesses.
Dowden defended the government’s approach, saying it’s the “correct approach” on balance.
“Because it’s the case that many social media apps have huge amounts of data harvesting, and it is also the case that sophisticated foreign hostile state actors are perfectly capable of using many mechanisms to obtain bulk data aside from direct ownership. So on the balance, we believe that this is the correct approach,” he said.
The Epoch Times has contacted TikTok and ByteDance for comment.
The Epoch Times previously revealed that ByteDance had been employing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members in its highest ranks. The company, like many organisations in China, is also bound by the regime’s National Intelligence Law, which requires all organisations and citizens to “support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.”
TikTok has said users’ personal data collected by the app can be remotely accessed in China but denied it had or would ever provide the data to the CCP. The promise has done little to assure security experts, who warned against trusting the Chinese regime.
Arthur Herman, senior fellow at the U.S. think tank the Hudson Institute, previously told The Epoch Times that the app harvests an enormous amount of data that can be used to picture, in the case of the United States, “where American vulnerabilities lie.” Its algorithms can also turn the app into a “brainwashing app” by filtering content disliked by the CCP.
A growing number of jurisdictions have banned the app on official devices over security concerns.
India banned TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps in June 2020, while Taiwan banned TikTok and some other Chinese apps on state-owned devices and in December 2022 launched a probe into the social media app over suspected illegal operations on the island.
Earlier this month, the White House ordered the removal TikTok app from all government devices and systems within 30 days, following similar moves in some U.S. states.
EU bodies—the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament—banned their officials from having TikTok on government and personal phones earlier this month.
Canada and Belgium are also among the governments that have recently banned the app.