The Chinese social media app TikTok will be banned on government phones and other devices for security reasons.
The restriction comes in response to concerns that authorities in Beijing could gain access to users’ sensitive data through the company’s owner, ByteDance, which is headquartered in China.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden will announce the ban in a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon.
The decision follows similar moves by the US, EU and Canada to prevent officials from using the app on their corporate devices, and comes after the government stated that China “presents a game-changing challenge.”
Here’s everything you need to know about the ban.
Chinese social media app TikTok will be banned on government phones and other devices for security reasons (stock image)
Who does the ban apply to?
TikTok will be banned on phones and other devices used by ministers and officials.
Government members and officials are also expected to be discouraged from keeping the controversial video-sharing app on their personal phones after security threats were identified by the intelligence community.
TIKTOK: A CHINESE-OWNED SOCIAL MEDIA APP SPECIALIZED IN SHORT VIDEO CLIPS
TikTok is a Chinese social media app that allows users to live stream and create short videos.
The slogan is ‘Make every second count’.
The app was the most downloaded in the US in 2018 and the fourth most downloaded in the world in 2018, ahead of Instagram and Snapchat.
TikTok is known as Douyin in China, where it was launched in 2016, before becoming more widely available around the world in 2017.
It provides users with a range of colorful editing 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 nearly 4 billion times and owner ByteDance is now said to be worth more than $75 billion (£58 billion).
In 2020, Donald Trump called for the US branch of TikTok to be sold to a US company over fears that the app posed a national security risk.
Parliament’s TikTok account was shut down last year after MPs raised concerns about the company’s ties to China, while the official Downing Street TikTok page hasn’t been updated since the summer.
Why has TikTok been banned from UK government phones?
Security experts in Britain are increasingly concerned about the data mining algorithms used by TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.
The company has previously admitted that some employees in China have access to European users’ data.
US officials have expressed concern that the Chinese government could pressure ByteDance into handing over users’ personal information, which could then be misused for intelligence or disinformation purposes.
But China’s foreign ministry accused Washington of “generalizing the concept of national security” and “unreasonably suppressing other countries’ enterprises.”
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has called for a more robust stance on Beijing, also welcomed the decision.
But he told MailOnline that the ban had to be extended to the personal phones of ministers and senior officials for it to work effectively.
“As long as they are ministers, they should be denied entry. If it’s a security risk on the government phones, it’s a security risk on their phones,” he said.
“The idea that they don’t do anything with the government other than on their secure phones — I’m sorry, that’s not true. This app should not be on their personal phones.”
What has been the reaction?
Banning the app on government phones was a “reasonable” response, as the national security concerns for politicians and UK government employees associated with TikTok are “significant”, IT professionals said.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, said this was more of a concern than regular users, whose data was “likely to be safe” according to the body.
BCS Group CEO Rashik Parmar 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 in this day and age when the apps we use every day are so closely tied to geopolitics.”
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden will announce the move in a statement in the House of Commons this afternoon.
Nigel Jones, co-founder of the Privacy Compliance Hub, added: ‘TikTok, like many apps used every day, collects significant amounts of our personal data, but it’s certainly not unique in that.
What makes TikTok different in the eyes of the countries that have banned its use on government devices is the fact that it’s Chinese.
“The fear here is twofold: Will the Chinese government have access to the data TikTok stores about us; and will it use TikTok as a source of disinformation?
“However, it would be helpful for the millions of us who use TikTok to learn more about the reasons behind these bans so that we can decide for ourselves whether we should remove the app as well.”
Adam Butler, the CEO of workplace solutions expert Officeology, believes the UK should go a step further and ban TikTok on all work devices.
He said: “The announcement that the government is going to ban TikTok from work phones is something I believe all workplaces should take to heart.
“There has been much speculation that user data from the platform can be easily accessed and shared, posing a threat of data and security breaches.
“While TikTok strongly denies this, it’s an area we don’t fully understand and the implications could be detrimental to a business.”
What has TikTok said?
TikTok UK has declined to comment on this afternoon’s statement.
However, on Tuesday the company said: ‘While we await details of any specific concerns from the UK government, we would be disappointed by such a move.
Similar decisions elsewhere are 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 on this afternoon’s statement in the House of Commons
“We have begun implementing a comprehensive plan to further protect our European user data, including storing UK user data in our European data centers and tightening data access controls, including independent third-party oversight of our approach.”
Which other countries have banned it?
Last month, the European Commission decided to suspend the use of TikTok on devices provided to staff and even on personal phones if they have official apps installed, following the US ban last year on federal employees using the app on work devices .
Former President Donald Trump also tried to introduce restrictions.
His proposed ban, which faced a series of legal challenges and never took effect, was withdrawn by his successor in the White House, Joe Biden.
The Indian government has also banned Chinese apps from the country.
Can TikTok be made illegal for any UK user?
The UK’s Security Secretary has refused to rule out TikTok becoming illegal in the UK.
Tom Tugendhat said Tuesday he was waiting for an assessment from the National Cyber Security Center before making a decision on the “hugely important question.”
Keeping an eye out: UK Security Secretary Tom Tugendhat said he was waiting for an assessment from the National Cyber Security Center before deciding whether to ban TikTok for all UK users
He was asked if he would go beyond blocking government phones by ordering a complete ban on the app.
“I don’t have it, and the Prime Minister asked me a while ago to defend the lead democracy task force, and as part of that we are looking at the various threats to parliamentarians but also to journalists,” he told Times Radio.
“Looking at the 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 Center to look into it.”
When asked if this meant there could be a full ban on the app, Mr Tugendhat added: ‘It will be dealt with with the challenges we face, with the threats we face.
“I’m not going to answer you until I know what the risks are.”