How worried should you be about TikTok? Everything you need to know as the UK Government BANS the app amid fears staff in China can spy on user data
- TikTok ban will apply to phones and other devices used by government ministers
- It comes in response to concerns that users’ data could be accessed by Beijing
Chinese-owned social media app TikTok is set to be banned on government phones and other devices on security grounds.
The restriction comes in response to concerns that users’ sensitive data could be accessed by the authorities in Beijing from the firm’s owner ByteDance, which has its headquarters in China.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden will announce the ban in the Commons in a statement this afternoon.
The decision follows similar moves by the US, the EU and Canada to stop officials using the app on their work devices, and comes after the Government declared that China ‘poses an epoch-defining challenge’.
Here is everything you need to know about the ban.
Chinese-owned social media app TikTok is set to be banned on government phones and other devices on security grounds (stock image)
Who does the ban apply to?
TikTok will be banned on phones and other devices used by government ministers and civil servants.
Members of the Government and officials are also expected to be discouraged from keeping the controversial video-sharing app on their personal phones, after safety risks were identified by the intelligence services.
TIKTOK: A CHINESE-OWNED SOCIAL MEDIA APP SPECIALISING IN SHORT VIDEO CLIPS
TikTok is a Chinese social media app where users can live stream and create short videos.
Its tagline is ‘Make every second count’.
The app was the most downloaded in the US in 2018 and the world’s fourth most downloaded in 2018, ahead of Instagram and Snapchat.
TikTok is known as Douyin in China, where it was launched in 2016, before being made more widely available around the world in 2017.
It offers users a raft of colourful modification and editing tools including overlaying music, sound, animated stickers, filters and augmented reality (AR) for creating short videos.
The Beijing-based social network has been downloaded almost 4billion times and owner ByteDance is now said to be worth more than $75billion (£58billion).
In 2020 Donald Trump called for the US arm of TikTok to be sold to an American company over fears the app posed a national security risk.
Parliament’s TikTok account was shut down last year after MPs raised concerns about the firm’s links to China, while the official Downing Street TikTok page has not been updated since the summer.
Why has TikTok been barred from UK Government phones?
Security experts in Britain have grown increasingly concerned about the data-mining algorithms used by TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.
The company has previously admitted that some staff in China can access the data of European users.
US officials have raised concerns that the Chinese government may pressure ByteDance to hand over users’ personal information, which could then be exploited for intelligence or disinformation purposes.
But China’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington of ‘generalising the concept of national security’ and ‘unreasonably suppressing enterprises of other countries’.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has called for a more robust attitude towards Beijing, welcomed the decision too.
But he told MailOnline the ban had to be extended to the personal phones of ministers and senior civil servants to work effectively.
‘While they are ministers they should be denied access. If it is a security risk on the government phones it is a security risk on their phones,’ he said.
‘The idea that they do nothing with the Government other than on their secure phones – I’m sorry, that is not true. This app should not be on their personal phones.’
What has the reaction been?
Banning the app on government phones was a ‘reasonable’ response because national security concerns for politicians and UK government employees in relation to TikTok are ‘significant’, according to IT professionals.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said this was more the concern than for ordinary users, whose data the body said was ‘probably safe’.
Rashik Parmar, BCS’ group chief executive, said: ‘It is reasonable to expect that social media linked to a non-allied state should not be on the devices of government officials.
‘Building public trust in technology is vital at this time, when the apps we use every day are so closely linked to geo-politics.’
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden will announce the move in the Commons in a statement this afternoon.
Nigel Jones, co-founder of the Privacy Compliance Hub, added: ‘TikTok, like many other apps in daily use, collects significant amounts of our personal data but it’s certainly not unique in that.
‘What makes TikTok different in the eyes of those countries which have banned its use on government devices, is the fact it is Chinese.
‘The fear here is twofold: will the Chinese government gain access to the data TikTok stores on us; and will it employ TikTok as a source of disinformation?
‘However, it would be useful for the millions of us who are using TikTok to be told more about the reasons behind these bans so we can decide for ourselves whether we should delete the app too.’
Workplace solutions expert Adam Butler, the CEO at Officeology, believes the UK should go a step further and ban TikTok on all work devices.
He said: ‘The announcement that the Government will be banning TikTok from work phones is something I believe all workplaces should take onboard.
‘There has been much speculation around user data from the platform being easily accessed and shared, which poses threats to data and security breaches.
‘Although TikTok strongly denies this, it is an area that we do not fully understand and the implications could be detrimental to a business.’
What has TikTok said?
TikTok UK has declined to comment ahead of this afternoon’s statement.
However, on Tuesday the company said: ‘While we await details of any specific concerns the UK Government may have, we would be disappointed by such a move.
‘Similar decisions elsewhere have been based on misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics, but we remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns.
TikTok UK has declined to comment ahead of this afternoon’s statement in the Commons
‘We have begun implementing a comprehensive plan to further protect our European user data, which includes storing UK user data in our European data centres and tightening data access controls, including third-party independent oversight of our approach.’
Which other countries have banned it?
Last month the European Commission decided to suspend the use of TikTok on devices issued to staff and even personal phones if they have official apps installed, following the US’s ban last year on federal employees using the app on work devices.
Former President Donald Trump also tried to bring in restictions.
His proposed ban, which faced a series of legal challenges and never came into force, was revoked by his successor in the White House, Joe Biden.
The Indian government has also barred Chinese-owned apps from the country.
Could TikTok be made illegal for every UK user?
Britain’s security minister has refused to rule out making TikTok illegal in the UK.
Tom Tugendhat said on Tuesday he was waiting on a review from the National Cyber Security Centre before deciding on the ‘hugely important question’.
Keeping a watchful eye: Britain’s security minister Tom Tugendhat said he was waiting on a review from the National Cyber Security Centre before deciding on whether to ban TikTok for all UK users
He was asked if he would go further than barring it on government phones, by ordering a complete ban on the app.
‘I don’t have it, and the prime minister asked me to defend the leading democracy taskforce a little while ago, and as part of that we’re looking at the various threats to parliamentarians but also to journalists,’ he told Times Radio.
‘Looking at the various different apps people have on their phones and the implications for them is a hugely important question and I’ve asked the National Cyber Security Centre to look into this.’
When pressed on whether this meant there could be a full ban on the app, Mr Tugendhat added: ‘It will be addressed with the challenges we face, with the threats we face.
‘I’m not going to give you an answer until I know what the risks are.’
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