‘Our security must always come first’: UK latest country to ban TikTok from government devices
Chinese-owned social media app TikTok has been banned from government devices in the UK, it was announced on Thursday.
The ban is effective immediately and will apply to phones used by government ministers and civil servants, Oliver Dowden, the foreign secretary in the Cabinet Office, said in a statement to the UK House of Commons.
“This is a precautionary step. We know that TikTok already has limited usage across government, but it’s also good cyber hygiene,” the minister said in his address to MPs.
ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, has been accused of leaking user data to the Chinese government. The company has vehemently denied this.
“We are disappointed with this decision. We believe these bans are based on fundamental misunderstandings and are driven by a broader geopolitics in which TikTok and our millions of users in the UK play no part,” a TikTok spokesperson told Euronews Next.
“We remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns but should be judged on the facts and placed on an equal footing with our competitors.”
According to the app’s spokesperson, TikTok has started storing European and UK users’ information in data centers across the continent to tighten access.
But for Britain’s National Cyber Security Center “there could be a risk in how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms,” evidence Dowden has based the ban on.
Criticism of the timing of a TikTok ban
For Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, this delayed ban “feels like closing the stable door after the horse bolts,” she said.
According to her, the “government is behind the curve” and using “sticking plaster solutions”.
Many colleagues shared their criticism and welcomed the changes, but pointed out the use of TikTok on private devices.
“The reality is that even if government phones are stripped of TikTok, private phones will remain away from their desks and private phones will be used for communication, and I honestly don’t believe that [they] never be used for government business. They will be, they are, and there is no way to stop it,” MP Iain Duncan Smith said, suggesting government officials should go further and ban TikTok from government officials’ personal devices.
Beyond the TikTok ban, devices across the government can only access third-party apps that are on a pre-approved list, Dowden said.
“Our safety must always come first, and today we are strengthening that safety in a prudent and proportionate way,” he said.
Labor MP Andrew Western went so far as to demand that the personal account of Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Schapps be closed.[to] do us all a favor”.
Using TikTok on personal devices across the UK is still possible, although the minister recommended that individuals should “use caution online”.
There will be very limited exceptions for using TikTok on government devices, which will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Scottish National Party MP Kirsty Blackman also noted the UK’s support for other Chinese companies violating human rights through the use of their products, such as Hikvision cameras.
“This approach is consistent with Allied actions,” Dowden said.
Britain is the newest country to join a growing list of countries that have banned the platform, with Belgium, the United States and the European Commission already deciding to do so over the past month.