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— The TikTok ban does not go far enough for some Conservative MPs. They have their eye on a lot more Chinese tech.
— Tech budget announcements have avoided getting too political so far but there is plenty to still digest.
— A year since the Online Safety Bill started its journey through parliament, the NSPCC has revealed the scale of reports of child abuse since.
Good morning, it’s Friday, phew.
Send your news, tips and views to the team: Annabelle Dickson, Mark Scott and me on email. You can also follow us on Twitter @TomSBristow @NewsAnnabelle @markscott82.
TIKTOK SEMI BANNED: The ban of TikTok on government devices, which began yesterday, is just the start for China hawks who want to see far more wide-reaching action. Their biggest concern is the restriction only covers government work phones, rather than personal ones.
Do as I say: There is also an exemption to the ban judged on a “case-by-case” basis which can include government comms. That means No. 10 will not close its TikTok account yet, a spokesman said, although it hasn’t been active since last July.
Also going nowhere: The Cabinet’s most prolific TikToker Grant Shapps wrote (on TikTok of course) that the ban was “sensible,” before adding: “I’ve never used TikTok on government devices and can hereby confirm I will NOT be leaving TikTok anytime soon!”
Wolf of Whitehall: He accompanied this with a clip from “The Wolf of Wall Street,” where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character shouts to his delirious staff: “I’m not f***ing leaving.” Morning Tech is yet to hear if similar scenes played out inside DESNZ yesterday.
Wanting more: But the ban will not be enough for some Conservative MPs like Iain Duncan Smith. “You can’t stop there,” he told Cabinet Office Secretary of State Oliver Dowden who announced the widely trailed ban in the Commons at lunchtime. Rooting for a wider embargo on officials’ personal phones, he said: “I honestly don’t believe that these private phones will never be used for government business.”
Eye on you: Duncan Smith also wants security cameras made by Chinese firm Hikvision removed from any government sites. Hikvision is the world’s largest maker of surveillance equipment and is used by U.K. police forces. The surveillance camera commissioner, Fraser Sampson, warned last month they could be used to send data back to Beijing.
Also wanting more: Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said there were a “myriad of other data exploiting technologies” which needed a “national discussion.” She added: “Hostile states will go to extreme lengths to spy on us. Tackling techno-authoritarianism must be one of our foremost priorities.” She urged Dowden to look at her amendments to the Procurement Bill to stop the public sector buying Chinese tech. Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael, meanwhile, accused the government of playing “whac-a-mole” and urged them to look at genomics too.
Clear-eyed: Dowden alluded to the fine line the U.K. must tread between engaging with the world’s second biggest economy while protecting national security. “We are totally clearly eyed about the threat in respect to China,” he told MPs.
Getting on message: Science and Tech Secretary Michelle Donelan said she welcomed the decision as the security of government devices “must always be our priority.”
Meanwhile at TikTok: Its Twitter account was immune to geopolitics yesterday, posting a video of a boy dancing and singing “chippy tea” just before Dowden announced the ban.
Project Clover: But the company’s VP of public policy in Europe, Theo Bertram tweeted they were disappointed with the ban which appeared to be “driven by wider geopolitics, in which TikTok and our users play no part.” As my colleagues in Brussels have reported, the company is responding to the bans with its Project Clover strategy.
AI TALKS: The UCL hosts a free virtual lecture by researcher Dan Mannion at midday on AI’s energy usage.
**A message from Google: As devices have become a daily part of growing up, it’s important that kids learn, play, and explore online without finding something they shouldn’t. To help, Google is turning SafeSearch on by default for people under 18 years old, so inappropriate content is automatically filtered out when they search online. Learn more.**
FOOTBALL FREE ZONE: The biggest political footballs from the budget thankfully have little to do with tech (tax burdens, pension reforms and childcare). But there is plenty to still digest.
Not impressed: Shadow DCMS minister Lucy Powell told us the budget measures were not “up to the task” of winning the global race for future technologies. “We’re lagging behind the EU and others when we should be world leaders,” she said. She pointed out it contained no plan for semiconductors, no plan to regulate digital markets and no plan to support more businesses to take advantage of new technologies.
More impressed: Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, partner at VC firm Index Ventures, said the budget set a “clear ambition” for the U.K. to be a world-leading tech economy and welcomed the announcements on AI.
Still waiting: But many are questioning why the semiconductor strategy wasn’t included. Labour MP Darren Jones, chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said publishing it would give investors and business leaders “a clear view of ministerial priorities.”
Going round in circles: Driving around Parliament Square yesterday morning, Paul Scully, the minister responsible for the semiconductor strategy, had an update for us. He upgraded the status of the strategy from coming “soon” to “very, very soon.” Speaking at a budget webinar yesterday held by MHP Group, Scully said it had been delayed because he wanted to make sure “it actually does something” and does not just “gather dust” on a shelf. The strategy is now expected next week.
Not the next Taiwan: “We’re not going to be the next Taiwan or US,” said Scully. But he added there is work the U.K. could do on design and skills, particularly around compound semiconductors, which has a cluster in south Wales. Scully’s take on the tech side of the budget was that it was setting a long-term, aspirational plan for the U.K.
View from the City: Steven Fine, chief executive of investment bank Peel Hunt, flagged Hunt’s announcement that he would encourage the City to invest in innovative U.K. companies, with more details coming in the fall. Fine said there was a perception at the moment that the U.K. was a “hostile environment” for listings. But he welcomed the budget for being “unremarkable” and taking a longer term vision.
If I was in charge: On the same panel, former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, who stressed he was “very retired,” praised the £2.5 billion investment in quantum. “If I was leading the country I would give us a national mission to be on the same plinth as the Chinese and U.S. (in terms of backing quantum),” he said.
TRAILING BEHIND: The French platforms regulator has said TikTok trails rivals Google, Meta and Twitter on content moderation, POLITICO’S Laura Kayali reports from Paris.
ON ICE: Australia’s AI policy programs are being held up, InnovationAus reports.
HATE SPEECH: Potentially violent speeches from world leaders posted to Facebook will be scrutinized by its Oversight Board in a fresh review.
ONE YEAR ON: Today is a year since the Online Safety Bill’s first reading in parliament and it still hasn’t passed. (The latest hold-up is in the Lords and it’s expected back in April.)
The NSPCC released figures today estimating that over the last 12 months 44,000 online child sexual offenses have been recorded by U.K. police and the numbers are increasing. That is an average of 120 offenses every day the bill has been in parliament.
Rising tide: Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “We are seeing a rising tide of online child sexual abuse and it is vital the Online Safety Bill that is eventually signed into law is robust enough to tackle both present and future harms.”
Advocate: But important issues with the legislation remain unresolved, he added. NSPCC wants a child safety advocate to give the voices of young people a seat at the regulatory table.
META MOVE: Madhu Ramankutty has joined Ofcom as a principal for online safety policy. She was previously in Meta’s policy teams.
OFFLOAD: Hanbury has sold its political intelligence division, City AM reports.
RIVALS BACK MICROSOFT-ACTIVISION IN UK REVIEW: Eight out of nine respondents raised no serious concerns to the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority’s provisional findings, from its probe of Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of games developer Activision.
UK’s robust stance: The responses published on Thursday shine a light on market views of the U.K’s suggested remedy that Microsoft should sell off Activision’s bestselling game “Call of Duty” for the deal to go through. But there was at least one company in favor of a more robust approach to the merger: Sony.
Sony wants it blocked: “Foreclosure will cause irreparable harm to the console and cloud gaming industry, to the detriment of gamers and competition,” Sony said, over its fear that Microsoft would curb access to “Call of Duty.” “The way to prevent that harm is for the transaction to be blocked.”
DATA BRIEF: The House of Commons Library has published a briefing for MPs on the revamped data bill. Read it here.
NO ONLINE SAFETY: Almost 90 percent of adults have come across content they suspected to be a scam or fraud, research commissioned by Ofcom reveals.
Morning Tech wouldn’t happen without Oscar Williams, Emma Anderson and Grace Stranger.
**A message from Google: When online family safety experts Internet Matters asked children about life online, three out of four said the internet was important for learning things they didn’t get taught in real life. Growing up online helps feed kids’ curiosity in ways only dreamed about even 10 years ago. But, naturally, parents worry about what their children might find on the internet. To help, Google has made SafeSearch the default setting for anyone under the age of 18 years old, so inappropriate content doesn’t show up in their searches. We also turn off Autoplay on YouTube, and filter access to apps on the Play Store. These new settings are one way Google is helping families be safer online. Learn more.**
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