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'Our security must always come first': UK latest country to ban TikTok from government devices

TikTok is banned from UK government phones.
TikTok is banned from UK government phones. Copyright Unsplash
Copyright Unsplash
By Aylin Elci
Published on Updated
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Chinese-owned social media app TikTok will be banned from UK government phones, including phones used by ministers and civil servants.

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Chinese-owned social media app TikTok has been banned from government devices in the United Kingdom, it was announced on Thursday. 

The ban is effective immediately and includes phones used by government ministers and civil servants, according to a statement given to the UK's House of Commons by Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office.

"This is a precautionary move. We know that there is already limited use of TikTok across government, but it is also good cyber hygiene," the minister said in his address to MPs.

ByteDance, the company which owns TikTok, has been accused of handing users' data to the Chinese government. The company has strongly denied this.

"We are disappointed with this 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 TikTok spokesperson told Euronews Next.

"We remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns but should be judged on facts and treated equally to our competitors".

According to the app's spokesperson, TikTok has begun storing the information of European and British users in data centres across the continent, to tighten access.

But for the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, "there could be a risk around how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms," evidence on which Dowden has based the ban.

Criticism of the timing of a TikTok ban

For Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, this delayed ban "feels like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted," she said. 

According to her, the "government is behind the curve" and using "sticking plaster solutions".

Many colleagues joined in with her criticism and while they welcomed the changes, they pointed out the use of TikTok on personal devices.

"The reality is that even if the government phones will have TikTok taken out of them, private telephones remain out of their desks, and private phones are used for communications, and I honestly don't believe that [they] will never be used for government business. They will be, they are, and there's no way of stopping that," said MP Iain Duncan Smith, suggesting that government officials go further and ban TikTok from government officials private devices.

@grantshapps

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about to address UK parliament

♬ original sound - Grant Shapps

Beyond the TikTok ban, devices across the government will now only be able to access third-party apps that are on a pre-approved list, according to Dowden.

"Our security must always come first, and today, we are strengthening that security in a prudent and proportionate way," he said.

Labour MP Andrew Western went as far as requesting that the personal account of Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Grant Schapps be shut down "[to] do us all a favour".

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The use of TikTok on personal devices across the UK is still possible, although the minister recommended that individuals "practice caution online".

There will be very limited exemptions for the use of TikTok on government devices, and they will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Scottish National Party MP Kirsty Blackman also pointed to the support the UK gives to other Chinese companies in violation of human rights by using their products, such as Hikvision cameras.

"This approach aligns with action taken by allies," Dowden said. 

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The UK is the latest country to join a growing list of countries that have banned the platform, with Belgium, the United States, and the European Commission already deciding to do so in the last month.

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