EXPLAINER: Canada latest to ban TikTok on government phones


TORONTO — Canada is banning TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it could be a first step toward further action.

The European Union executive said last week it had temporarily banned TikTok from phones used by employees as a cybersecurity measure. The EU’s action follows similar moves in the US, where more than half the states and Congress have banned TikTok from official government devices.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that has moved its headquarters to Singapore. It has been targeted by critics who say the Chinese government could access user data such as browsing history and location. The US armed forces have also banned the app on military devices.

TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teenagers and has become the second most popular domain in the world. But in Washington, there have long been bipartisan concerns that Beijing would use legal and regulatory powers to confiscate American user data or attempt to spread pro-Chinese narratives or misinformation.

Here’s a look at the broader debate on TikTok:


Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission in the US have warned that TikTok user data is being shared by owner ByteDance Ltd. could be shared with China’s authoritarian government. US officials also fear the Chinese government may use TikTok to spread pro-Chinese narratives or misinformation.

Fears were fueled last year by news reports that a China-based team had abusively accessed data from US TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a covert surveillance program to track down the source of leaks to the press.

There are also concerns that the company is sending bulk user data to China in violation of strict European data protection rules.

In addition, there have been concerns about TikTok’s content and whether it is harmful to teens’ mental health.


In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration sought to ban deals with the owner of TikTok, force him to sell his US assets and remove him from app stores. Courts blocked Trump’s efforts to ban TikTok, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders after taking office, but ordered an in-depth investigation into the issue. A proposed sale of TikTok’s US assets has been put on hold.

In the US Congress, concern over the app was bipartisan. Congress last month banned TikTok from most US government-issued devices over bipartisan security concerns.

The Senate approved a version of the TikTok ban in December penned by conservative Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a vocal critic of big tech companies.

But Democratic US Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois has co-sponsored legislation to ban TikTok from operating in the US altogether, and the measure approved by Congress in December had the support of Democratic US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Last week, Canada’s federal privacy agency and its counterparts in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec announced an investigation to determine whether the app complies with Canadian privacy laws.

“It is curious that the government of Canada moved to block TikTok on government-issued devices — without citing specific security concerns or contacting us with questions — only after similar bans were introduced in the EU and US. We’re always willing to meet with our government officials to discuss how we’re protecting the privacy and security of Canadians, but exposing TikTok in this way doesn’t help achieve that common goal. It merely prevents officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians,” a TikTok spokesperson said in an emailed statement.


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