TikTok gets banned on UK government devices

16 Mar 2023

Image: © Ascannio/Stock.adobe.com

The decision comes hours after the US threatened to fully ban TikTok unless its Beijing-based owner, ByteDance, sells its stake in the app.

The UK has moved to ban TikTok on government devices with immediate effect, as a measure of “good cyber hygiene”.

The ban does not include personal devices and there will be limited exemptions where TikTok is required on government devices for “operational reasons”. These exemptions will be decided on a case-by-case basis by relevant security teams.

The decision was announced today (16 March) by cabinet office minister Oliver Dowden, who said the move is a “precautionary measure”. It comes hours after the US threatened to fully ban TikTok unless its Beijing-based owner, ByteDance, sells its stake in the app.

The UK’s decision follows reports earlier this week that its National Cyber Security Centre was asked to review the app, amid concerns that it may be providing private user data from around the world to the Chinese government for surveillance purposes.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Dowden said this review has concluded and that it’s “clear that there could be a risk around how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms”.

“We are moving to a system where government devices will only be able to access third-party apps that are on a pre-approved list,” Dowden said. “This system is already in place across many departments. Now, it will be the rule across government.”

Dowden said it is necessary to limit which apps can access government devices as there is a “particular risk” around the sensitive data these devices hold, “particularly when it comes to apps where a large amount of data can be stored and accessed”.

The decision follows other countries around the world taking measures to limit the video-sharing platform’s access to government data.

Last month, Canada banned TikTok from its government-issued mobile devices as a “precaution”, noting that the app’s data collection methods provide “considerable access” to the contents of the phone it is installed on.

At around the same time, the White House ordered US federal agencies to start removing the TikTok app from their IT systems. This followed a decision last November by the US state of South Dakota to ban the use of TikTok for government staff due to the “growing national security threat” posed by the platform.

TikTok also caused concern in the EU last November when it confirmed that employees in China and a host of other countries have remote access to European user data. Until then, it was believed data was only stored in Singapore and the US.

Following this, the European Commission asked all employees to delete the TikTok app from devices provided by the organisation, which came into effect yesterday (15 March).

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic