LONDON, March 16 (Reuters) – Britain said on Thursday it would ban TikTok on government phones with immediate effect, a move following other Western countries in blocking the Chinese video app over security concerns.
TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny over fears that user data from the app owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests.
“The security of sensitive government information must come first, so today we are banning this app on government devices. The use of other data-extracting apps will be reviewed,” Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden said in a statement.
The UK government had asked the National Cyber Security Center to look into the potential vulnerability of government data from social media apps and the risks surrounding how sensitive information could be accessed and used.
The United States, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission have already banned the app from official devices.
“Restricting the use of TikTok on government devices is a wise and proportionate step following advice from our cybersecurity experts,” said Dowden.
TikTok said it was disappointed with the decision and has already taken steps to further protect European user data.
“We believe these bans are based on fundamental misconceptions and are driven by broader geopolitics, in which TikTok and our millions of users in the UK play no part,” said a TikTok spokesperson.
China said the decision was based on political considerations rather than facts.
The move “disrupts the normal operations of relevant businesses in the UK and will ultimately only harm the UK’s own interests,” the embassy in London said in a statement.
Dowden said parliament government devices can now only access third-party apps from a pre-approved list.
The TikTok ban does not include personal devices belonging to government employees or ministers and there would be limited exceptions where TikTok was required on government devices for work purposes, he added.
British government departments and ministers are increasingly using TikTok and other platforms to communicate with voters.
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said the ban on government devices was wise, but he would stay on the platform on his personal phone.
He posted an excerpt from the movie “Wolf of Wall Street” in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s character says, “I’m not f****** leave,” and “The show goes on.”
The British Ministry of Defense posted a video on the platform shortly before the ban was announced, showing the British Army training Ukrainian troops to use the Challenger 2 main battle tank.
Reporting by Muvija M and Kylie MacLellan, additional reporting by Ella Cao and Meg Shen in Beijing; Edited by Paul Sandle and William James
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