ByteDance is facing more headaches, as it emerged the popular short-video app is facing a potential ban by the UK government.
Security minister Tom Tugendhat said on Tuesday that the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is reviewing whether the Chinese-owned video app should be banned from government devices.
And now the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indicated that the UK could follow other countries in banning TikTok from government devices, after the PM said he will take “whatever steps are necessary” to protect Britain’s security.
India banned TikTok and other Chinese apps back in July 2020, after a sharp deterioration in its relationship with Beijing, after 20 Indian soldiers were killed by the Chinese military in the disputed Sino-Indian border region.
TikTok was then banned on federal devices in United States, as well Canada, Belgium and the European Commission.
At least 32 of fifty US states have banned TikTok on state devices.
US officials for a while now have alleged China’s government could force TikTok parent ByteDance to hand over data on US users that could be used for intelligence or disinformation purposes.
TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee of the US Congress on Thursday 23 March, as American lawmakers prepare a bill that could ban the social media platform entirely from the United States on national security grounds.
TikTok is used by more than 100 million Americans, but that countrywide ban of TikTok in the United States seems increasingly likely, after the White House last week lent its backing to the bill from a bipartisan group of a dozen US senators.
Now the UK is also considering its own ban on the Chinese-owned app, after the UK parliament last August closed down its TikTok account over concerns that its Chinese parent could be forced to hand over data to Chinese authorities.
Security minister Tom Tugendhat confirmed his request for an investigation into the app to Sky News.
He said it was “absolutely essential” to keep the UK’s “diplomatic processes free and safe.”
“Understanding exactly what the challenges that these apps pose, what they are asking for and how they’re reaching into our lives is incredibly important,” said Tugendhat, when asked if he would like to see TikTok banned from British government phones.
“That’s why I’ve asked the National Cyber Security Centre to look into this. I haven’t yet had an answer. So I’m not going to give you that answer yet. I can’t,” he said.
In a separate interview with Times Radio, Tugendhat said: “We need to make sure that our phones are not spyware, but useful tools for us.”
TikTok said it would be disappointed by such a ban.
“Similar decisions elsewhere have been based on misplaced fears and seemingly driven by wider geopolitics, but we remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns,” a TikTok spokesperson told Reuters, adding that it had begun taking steps to further protect European user data.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has indicated that the UK could follow the US and Canada in banning TikTok from government devices.
Whilst he was in America announcing the UK’s contribution to the AUKUS agreement, the prime minister said the UK was “looking at what our allies are doing” in the wake of the decision by other countries to remove TikTok from government phones.
Asked by ITV if the government was considering a ban, Sunak said: “We want to make sure that we protect the integrity and security of sensitive information. And we will always do that and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that happens.”
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