France, the Netherlands and Norway have joined a growing list of countries that have recently issued orders banning the use of TikTok on government-issued devices, as concerns grow over the app’s privacy and security.
The Dutch interior ministry said on Tuesday it discouraged the use of all apps from “countries with an aggressive cyber-programme targeted at the Netherlands or Dutch interests” on phones distributed by the government.
The statement did not pinpoint TikTok by name, but the advice follows an assessment by the national intelligence agency AIVD that warned that apps from countries such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran carried “a heightened risk of espionage”.
Norway’s justice minister, also recommended on Tuesday that government employees abstain from using TikTok on their work devices.
On Friday, the French government banned the installation and use of "recreational" applications such as TikTok, Netflix and Instagram on the work phones of 2.5 million civil servants.
French Minister of Public Service Stanislas Guerini tweeted that the measure was intended to “ensure the cybersecurity” of their administrations and public officials.
“Recreational applications do not present sufficient levels of cybersecurity and data protection to be deployed on administration equipment. These applications may therefore constitute a risk to the data protection of these administrations and their public officials,” the French Government said in a statement.
In recent months, lawmakers in the European Union, the United States, Denmark and Canada, have also recently issued orders prohibiting the use of TikTok. Experts fear sensitive information could be exposed when the app is downloaded, especially on government devices.
France is the first country to step up efforts to also ban other "recreational" applications such as Netflix on government devices.
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, has long maintained that it does not share users' data with the Chinese government and that it is run independently.
TikTok disputes accusations that it collects more user data than other social media companies and has called the bans "basic misinformation," saying these had been decided with "no deliberation or evidence".
But many countries remain cautious about the platform and its ties to China. Western technology companies, including Airbnb, Yahoo and LinkedIn, have also been leaving China or downsizing operations there because of Beijing's strict privacy law, which specifies how companies can collect and store data.
Here are the countries and regions that have already implemented partial or total bans on the app.
On March 16, Oliver Dowden, the UK Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office, announced in a statement to the UK's House of Commons an immediate ban of the app on government official devices.
"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.
The ban is based on a report by the UK's National Cyber Security Centre, which found "there could be a risk around how sensitive government data is accessed and used by certain platforms".
Although the UK was one the first countries to ban the use of other Chinese-owned technology such as Huawei,critics flagged the delay in banning TikTokcompared to allies.
The European Parliament, European Commission, and the EU Council, the three top EU bodies, have all imposed bans on TikTok on staff devices, citing cybersecurity concerns.
The European Parliament's ban, announced on Tuesday, takes effect on March 20. It also “strongly recommended” that members of parliament and staff remove the app from their personal devices as well.
On March 24, France banned the installation and use of "recreational" applications, including the Chinese social network TikTok and the American streaming platform Netflix on the work phones of the country's 2.5 million state civil servants.
The ban, which was notified through a "binding" instruction, immediately took effect and does not apply to the personal phones of state employees.
“Over the past few weeks, several of our European and international partners have adopted measures to restrict or prohibit the downloading and installation of TikTok by their public servants,” the government said in a statement.
“After analysing the issues at stake, notably security, the government has decided to prohibit the downloading and installation of recreational applications on business telephones provided to public officials”.
The Dutch government advised its civil servants on Tuesday against using apps from other countries with a record of"offensive cyberware" on their work devices.
"The central government must be able to do its work securely, including via its mobile devices," said Alexandra van Huffelen, the Dutch Minister for Digitalisation.
Eventually, the government wants all civil servants' business phones to be configured so that only applications, software or features that have been previously authorised can be installed and used.
Norway’s Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said in a statement on Tuesday that “in their risk assessments ... the Norwegian intelligence services single out Russia and China as the main risk factors for Norway's security interests".
She added that "they also single out social media as a forum favoured by potentially dangerous actors and others who want to influence us with disinformation and fake news".
Civil servants can still use TikTok if necessary on professional grounds, but only on devices that not are not connected to the government's network, the ministry said.
New Zealand became the latest country on March 17 to announce TikTok will be banned from the phones of government lawmakers at the end of March 2023.
Unlike in other countries such as the UK, the ban won't affect all government workers and will only be applied to about 500 people in the parliamentary complex.
Parliamentary Service Chief Executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero said officials could make special arrangements if they needed TikTok to perform their democratic duties.
New Zealand prime minister Chris Hipkins said he didn't have TikTok on his phone and added, “I'm not that hip and trendy”.
On March 10, Belgium announced it was banning TikTok from devices owned or paid for by Belgium's federal government over worries about cybersecurity, privacy, and misinformation for at least six months, the country's prime minister said.
Responding to Belgium’s announcement, TikTok said it was "disappointed at this suspension, which is based on basic misinformation about our company,” adding that they were "readily available to meet with officials to address any concerns and set the record straight on misconceptions".
On March 6, Denmark’s Defense Ministry announced it would “ban the use of the app on official units” as a cybersecurity measure.
In a statement, the ministry said the Scandinavian country’s Centre for Cyber Security - which is part of Denmark’s foreign intelligence service - had assessed there was a risk of espionage.
The ministry said "there were weighty security considerations within the defence ministry combined with a very limited work-related need to use the app," and that employees "are required to uninstall TikTok on service phones and other official devices as soon as possible if they have previously installed it".
Also this month, the US said government agencies had 30 days to delete TikTok from federal devices and systems over data security concerns. The ban applies only to government devices, though some US lawmakers are advocating an outright ban.
More than half of the 50 US states have also banned the app from government devices.
Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data with China’s authoritarian government.
There is also concern about TikTok’s content and whether it harms teenagers’ mental health. Researchers from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate said in a report in December that eating disorder content on the platform had amassed 13.2 billion views.
Roughly two-thirds of US teens use TikTok, according to the Pew Research Center.
After the US announcement, Canada also announced that government-issued devices must not use TikTok, saying that it presents an “unacceptable” risk to privacy and security.
Employees will also be blocked from downloading the application in the future.
In 2020, India imposed a ban on TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps, including the messaging app WeChat, over privacy and security concerns. The ban came shortly after a clash between Indian and Chinese troops at a disputed Himalayan border killed 20 Indian soldiers and injured dozens.
The companies were given a chance to respond to questions on privacy and security requirements but the ban was made permanent in January 2021.
In December 2022, Taiwan imposed a public sector ban on TikTok after the FBI warned that TikTok posed a national security risk.
Government devices, including mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers, are not allowed to use Chinese-made software, which include apps like TikTok, its Chinese equivalent Douyin, or Xiaohongshu, a Chinese lifestyle content app.
Pakistani authorities have temporarily banned TikTok at least four times since October 2020, citing concerns that the app promotes immoral content.
Afghanistan's Taliban leadership banned TikTok and the game PUBG in 2022 on the grounds of protecting youths from "being misled".