The UK Government has banned TikTok from all government-owned devices due to concerns over cyber-security risks. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden, announced the decision following a review by experts, stating that only third-party apps from an approved list would be allowed on official devices across departments and arms-lengths bodies. The restriction comes in response to fears that users’ sensitive data could be accessed by authorities in Beijing via TikTok’s firm owner ByteDance, which is headquartered in China. Members of the Government and officials will also be discouraged from keeping the controversial video-sharing app on their personal phones.
This move follows similar bans by the US, EU, and Canada to stop officials from using the app on their work devices. The UK Government has also declared that China ‘poses an epoch-defining challenge’. The ban was welcomed by former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has called for a more robust attitude towards Beijing. He suggested that the ban should be extended to the personal phones of ministers and senior civil servants.
TikTok has responded to the ban, saying that it has been based on ‘misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics’, and that it would be ‘disappointed by such a move’ in the UK. However, Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said that ‘significant questions remain around TikTok’s ability to act as a data Trojan Horse’, and that the Government has a duty to protect people from the acquisition of personal data by hostile states.
The Biden administration has also threatened to ban TikTok in the US unless its Chinese owner sells its shares in the app, following concerns over the way it harvests data from US citizens. This represents a shift in attitude towards the platform. It is the first time the administration has explicitly threatened a ban. The demand was made by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States and specifies that ByteDance sell its stake in the US version of the app. It is unclear whether federal officials have given ByteDance a deadline to sell.
The UK Government’s decision to ban TikTok from government-owned devices is part of a broader effort by Western governments to address cyber-security concerns related to Chinese tech companies. The US has been particularly aggressive in this regard, with former President Trump issuing executive orders banning TikTok and WeChat, another popular Chinese-owned app, in August 2020.
The Biden administration has taken a more nuanced approach to the issue, with President Biden revoking the Trump-era TikTok ban in June 2021, while ordering a review of the app’s security risks. The recent threat to ban TikTok unless ByteDance sells its stake in the US version of the app is part of this ongoing review process.
The UK’s ban on TikTok also highlights the broader geopolitical tensions between the UK and China. The UK has been taking a harder line on China in recent years, citing concerns over human rights abuses, trade practices, and national security risks. This has led to a growing sense of mistrust between the two countries, with China warning the UK not to interfere in its internal affairs.
The ban on TikTok is a reflection of the growing concerns over cyber-security risks related to Chinese tech companies. As Western governments continue to grapple with these issues, it is likely that we will see more bans and restrictions on Chinese-owned apps and technologies in the future.
There is significant concern among Western governments and cyber-security experts that the Chinese government could be using user data collected by Chinese tech companies for nefarious purposes. In the case of TikTok, the concern is that user data could be accessed by the authorities in Beijing via TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, which has its headquarters in China.
Some experts believe that the Chinese government could be using user data for surveillance and espionage purposes. For example, they could be using data collected by TikTok to track the movements and activities of individuals, or to identify potential targets for cyber-attacks. There are also concerns that the Chinese government could be using user data to influence public opinion and spread propaganda.
The Chinese government has a long history of using technology for surveillance and control purposes, and there have been numerous reports of Chinese tech companies sharing user data with the government. In some cases, these companies have been accused of actively collaborating with the government to collect and analyze data.
The Chinese government’s approach to data privacy and cyber-security is very different from that of Western countries. In China, the government has broad powers to monitor and control the flow of information, and there are few legal protections for individual privacy. This has led to concerns that Chinese tech companies are not sufficiently transparent about their data collection practices, and that users may not be fully aware of how their data is being used.
The concern is that the Chinese government could be using user data collected by Chinese tech companies for a wide range of purposes, some of which may be detrimental to individual privacy and national security. As a result, Western governments are taking a more cautious approach to Chinese-owned apps and technologies, and are implementing bans and restrictions in an effort to mitigate the risks associated with these products.