TikTok banned on UK government phones

Video-sharing app is used by some ministers to communicate with the public

The UK government has banned TikTok on ministers' phones. Getty
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TikTok has been banned on the phones of UK government ministers, a member of Rishi Sunak's government has announced.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden told MPs in the House of Commons the change in policy was arrived at after a security review of the Chinese-owned app.

After concerns were raised about TikTok, the government asked chiefs at the National Cyber Security Centre to examine the video-sharing app.

Mr Dowden on Thursday said the review concluded “there could be a risk that sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms”.

He said the data collected by social media apps includes contacts of users, their content and locations, and that such information “can be sensitive” when it comes from government sources.

“So today we are strengthening the security of those devices in two key respects,” Mr Dowden told MPs. “First, 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.

“This system is already in place across many departments. Now, it will be the rule across government.

“Second, we are also going to ban the use of TikTok on government devices. We will do so with immediate effect.”

The ban will apply to "government corporate devices" used by ministers and ministries, but not to personal devices or the wider public.

"This is a proportionate move," said Mr Dowden, while he urged users to exercise "caution" before downloading apps.

'Tiktok bans driven by geopolitics'

Tiktok said it was disappointed with the Sunak government's decision.

"We believe these bans have been based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics, in which TikTok, and our millions of users in the UK, play no part," a spokesperson for TikTok said in a statement.

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner welcomed the ban but said “once again the government is late to the game”, pointing to TikTok bans in the US and the European Commission.

She questioned why Tiktok had been banned only from the devices of central government, as opposed to those of all MPs.

Ms Rayner said the policy amounted to a "nothing but a temporary fix, a sticking plaster while gaping holes still remain in our national security".

"We must fix this problem," she demanded.

Politicians had been pressuring the Prime Minister to follow the US and the EU in banning TikTok from government devices. Earlier this week, Mr Sunak said the UK would “look at what our allies are doing”.

An evaluation of TikTok was necessary to keep Britain’s “diplomatic processes free and safe”, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said on Tuesday.

“We must check to see if there is spyware on our phones,” he said. “It’s crucial to understand the issues these applications present, the information they seek, and the extent to which they influence our lives.”

The ban comes after Britain called China an “epoch-defining challenge” in the Integrated Review Refresh.

Prohibiting ministers from using TikTok is likely to anger Beijing amid increasing tensions with the West.

China has accused the US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok after reports President Joe Biden’s administration is calling for the app’s Chinese owners to sell their stakes.

TikTok said bans have been based on “misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics”, and said it would be “disappointed by such a move” in the UK.

Michelle Donelan, the UK’s Science and Technology Secretary, on Wednesday said the public can continue to use the app.

“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 the Commons.

TikTok has long said it does not share data with China but Chinese intelligence legislation requires companies to help the Communist Party when requested.

Critics fear the policy could expose western data to Beijing.

The UK Parliament’s TikTok account was shut down last year after MPs raised concerns about its Chinese links.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative party leader, said at the time: "We need to start talking to people about not using TikTok."

He is among British legislators to have been sanctioned by Beijing for speaking out against alleged human rights abuses.

Updated: March 17, 2023, 7:23 AM