TikTok will be banned from UK government phones amid security concerns around the Chinese-owned social media video app, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden announced in Parliament on Thursday.
The ban brings the UK in line with the US, Canada and the European Union (EU) and also India which banned TikTok entirely from the country, even as the company strongly denies sharing user data with the Chinese government.
The Guardian reported UK's decision came hours after TikTok said its owner, ByteDance, was told by Washington to sell the app or face a possible ban in the country. At least two cabinet ministers, Michelle Donelan, the science and technology secretary, and Grant Shapps, the energy security and net zero secretary have an account on TikTok, the publication reported.
Dowden told MPs that there "Could be a risk to how government data and information is used by the app. The security of sensitive government information must come first, so today we are banning this app on government devices,” said Dowden.
“The use of other data-extracting apps will be kept under review. Restricting the use of TikTok on government devices is a prudent and proportionate step following advice from our cyber security experts,” he said.
The ban follows a security review which looked at the potential vulnerability of government data from social media apps on devices and the risks around how sensitive information could be accessed and used by some platforms.
Beyond a precautionary ban on TikTok, the Cabinet Office said that given the potentially sensitive nature of information which is stored on government devices, government policy on the management of third-party applications will be strengthened.
Currently, there is limited use of TikTok within the government and a limited need for staff to use the app on work devices, the ministry said. TikTok requires users to give permission for the app to access data stored on the device, which is then collected and stored by the company.
Allowing such permissions gives the company access to a range of data on the device, including contacts, user content, and geolocation data. The UK government said, “along with international partners, it is concerned about the way in which this data may be used.”
The ban on government devices will apply to government corporate devices within all government departments. The ban does not extend to personal devices for government employees, ministers or the general public.
However, they have been asked to be aware of each social media platform's data policies when considering downloading and using them.
The Cabinet Office said specific exemptions for the use of TikTok on government devices are being put in place where required for work purposes.
Exemptions will only be granted by security teams on a case-by-case basis, with ministerial clearance as appropriate, and with security mitigations put in place. These exemptions will cover areas such as individuals working in relevant enforcement roles and for the purposes of work on online harms.
The Guardian quoted a TikTok spokesperson saying, “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. We remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns.”
China also called the decision to ban the application a 'political decision'. Quoting a statement from the Chinese Embassy in London, Reuters reported, “ The move interferes with the normal operations of relevant companies in the UK and will ultimately only harm the UK's own interests.”
(With PTI inputs.)