TikTok banned from official UK government phones

On the basis of security, British government officials are not permitted to use the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on their official phones or devices.

The government is concerned that the Chinese government may gain access to private information stored on official phones.

Oliver Dowden, a cabinet minister, said the ban was a “precautionary” measure but would go into action right away.

Allegations that TikTok provides user data to the Chinese government have been categorically refuted.

According to Theo Bertram, the app’s vice-president for government relations and public policy in Europe, the choice was “more on geopolitics than anything else,” he told the BBC.

He continued, “We requested to be judged on the facts, not on the fears that people have.

The Chinese embassy in London said the move was driven by politics “rather than facts” and would “undermine the confidence of the international community in the UK’s business environment”.

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The public should always “consider each social media platform’s data policies before downloading and using them,” Mr. Dowden said, adding that he would not counsel against using TikTok.

Senior lawmakers had pressed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to ban the video-sharing app from official government devices, just like the US and the EU had done.

However, government agencies, as well as specific ministers, have adopted TikTok as a means of reaching young people with their messages.

Use of the app has exploded in recent years, with 3.5 billion downloads worldwide.

Its success comes from how easy it is to record short videos with music and fun filters, but also from its algorithm which is good at serving up videos which appeal to individual users.

It is able to do this because it gathers a lot of information on users – including their age, location, device and even their typing rhythms – while its cookies track their activity elsewhere on the internet.

US-based social media sites also do this but TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance has faced claims of being influenced by Beijing.

Downing Street – which last posted a TikTok video of Larry the Cat predicting football results – said it would continue to use TikTok to get the government’s message out.

It said there were exemptions to the ban under some circumstances.

Despite the security warnings, some lawmakers are also hesitant to give up their TikTok habit.

Cabinet minister Grant Shapps – an enthusiastic TikTokker – responded to the ban by posting a clip from the film, Wolf Of Wall Street, in which Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a New York stockbroker, uses a series of expletives and declares: “The show goes on”.

“I’ve never used TikTok on government devices, and I can hereby confirm I will NOT be leaving TikTok anytime soon,” Mr. Shapps said after calling the ban “sensible.”

Ministers are only allowed to use the site on devices used for business; personal phones are not prohibited.

But Nadine Dorries – who experimented with TikTok videos when she was culture secretary – said she would be deleting the app from her personal phone, adding: “I think all MPs should do likewise.”

Hours before the ban was announced the Ministry of Defence (MoD) uploaded a video of a Challenger 2 tank, a type being supplied to Ukraine, to its TikTok account.

The MoD said it would continue to use the app “to promote the work of the Armed Forces and to communicate our support to Ukraine”.

The department’s sensitive data is “held on a separate system”, it added.

The Welsh government has also banned TikTok from the work phones of ministers and civil servants.

In Edinburgh, a spokesperson for the Scottish government said officials were liasing with the Cabinet Office “as we consider the need for further action”.

In a statement earlier, TikTok said the UK government’s decision was based on “fundamental misconceptions”.

“We remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns but should be judged on facts and treated equally to our competitors,” a spokesman added.

A handful of Western journalists were found to have been tracked by ByteDance employees. ByteDance says they were fired.

A TikTokk user from the US posted a video criticizing how the Chinese government treated Uighur Muslims, and it was later removed.

It was an error, according to TikTok.

Despite the company’s repeated rejections, this has made governments and security experts more anxious.

Every company with a presence in China is expected to be faithful to the government, but it’s unclear how far ByteDance might be compelled to give up data.

TikTok was banned from official platforms in the US in December, and the EU did the same last month.

Canada, Belgium and India have taken similar action.

New Zealand on Friday also issued a ban on government devices.

China has accused the US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok amid reports the White House wants its Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the firm.

TikTok insists it does not share data with Chinese officials, but Chinese intelligence laws requires firms to help the Communist Party when requested.

Western social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are blocked in China.

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