After the United States, the UK and New Zealand became the latest western countries to ban the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform TikTok on “government devices” citing security fears, The New York Times reported.
The UK, on Thursday, announced the ban of TikTok with immediate effect citing security fears linked to the video-sharing app’s ownership by a Chinese company.
Speaking in the parliament, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden described the ban as “precautionary,” even though the United States, the European Union’s executive arm, Canada and India had already taken similar steps.
Dowden said social media apps collect and store huge amounts of user data including contacts, user content and geolocation data on government devices which can be sensitive, according to The New York Times.
Post COVID-19, TikTok has aroused more suspicion than most because of its owner, the Chinese company ByteDance.
Britain’s actions reflect fears expressed across a variety of Western governments that TikTok might share sensitive data from devices used by politicians and senior officials with the government in Beijing.
The ban was announced on Thursday after the announcement of hardening the policy in Britain. On Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described China as an “epoch-defining challenge” to the international order.
The new instruction applies only to the official work phones of government officials, and it was described by Dowden as a proportionate approach to addressing a potential vulnerability of government data, reported The New York Times.
In a statement on Thursday, TikTok said it was disappointed with the British government’s decision, saying that the bans imposed on it were “based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics.” It added that it was taking steps to protect British users’ data.
Several British government departments have TikTok accounts as part of their public outreach, including the country’s defence ministry, and as recently as one day ago, Michelle Donelan, the secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, said the app was safe for British people to use.
“In terms of the general public, it is absolutely a personal choice, but because we have the strongest data protection laws in the world, we are confident that the public can continue to use it,” she told lawmakers in Parliament.
Earlier, the US threatened to ban TikTok from the country unless the app’s Chinese owners agree to spin off their share of the social media platform, TikTok acknowledged Wednesday evening.
In response to that message, TikTok’s Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew said, divesting the company from its Chinese owners — a move the US is now demanding — doesn’t offer any more protection than a multibillion-dollar plan the company has already proposed, Wall Street Journal reported.