UK bans TikTok from government mobile phones | ICT Tac

Britain is to ban Chinese video-sharing app TikTok from the mobile phones of ministers and civil servants, bringing the UK in line with the US and the European Commission and reflecting worsening relations with Beijing.

The decision marks a sharp reversal from the UK’s previous stance and came hours after TikTok said its owner, ByteDance, had been told by Washington to sell the app or face a possible ban. in the country.

The UK government’s announcement was made by Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister, in the Commons on Thursday. He said the ban was taking place “with immediate effect”.

The decision follows a review of TikTok by government cybersecurity experts that began in November, Dowden said, and will cover ministers’ and civil servants’ work phones, but not their home phones. “This is a proportionate decision based on a specific risk with government apparatuses,” he added.

The UK Cabinet Office said TikTok requires users to allow the app to access data stored on the device, which is then collected and stored by the company. Allowing such permissions gives the company access to a range of data, including contacts, user content, and geolocation data. Dowden said that justified the ban.

At least two cabinet ministers are using TikTok. Michelle Donelan, Secretary of Science and Technology, and Grant Shapps, Secretary of Energy Security and Net Zero have an account on the app, which is used by millions of young people and many celebrities and influencers.

The move aligns the UK with the US government and the European Commission, both of which announced similar bans on TikTok in the past month, and shows how quickly Western trust in China and TikTok has deteriorated in recent times. month.

But it marks a sharp setback to the UK’s previously relaxed stance. Just over a fortnight ago, Donelan said the UK would not follow other governments and that the decision to install the app should be up to an individual politician or minister. “As a curator, I’m a big believer in personal choice,” she said.

A TikTok spokesperson said the company was disappointed. “We believe these bans are based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by broader geopolitics, in which TikTok and our millions of users in the UK play no part. We remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns. »

The company said it had started work on “a comprehensive plan” to protect European user data, including storing UK user data in its European data centers and independent third-party monitoring of its approach . TikTok has acknowledged that UK personal data is transferred overseas, including to China, for its global staff to undertake certain “important functions”.

Angela Rayner, from Labour, accused the Government of being ‘late with adhesive plaster solutions’ given previously announced bans overseas – and asked why the ‘specific risk’ only applied to central government phones and tablets.

The deputy party leader also asked if there had been ‘a thorough review’ of ministers’ use of mobile phones, referring to the dreaded hacking of Liz Truss’ phone when she was business minister and Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages that ended up in the hands of the Daily Telegraph.

“Can he say if there have been any discussions during this process about the use of private messaging like WhatsApp and emails by ministers?” Rayner told deputies. Dowden responded by saying ministers had received “extensive advice on taking office” and that the government was updating its guidance on “private messaging” by ministers.

Iain Duncan Smith, a Tory MP who has repeatedly raised security concerns over China, said the personal phones of ministers and civil servants should also be covered by a ban because “private phones will remain on their desks”. He added: “The point I would make is that you can’t stop there.”

But in response, Dowden said ‘there was a balance the government has to try to find’ – and said ministers had been briefed on the rules, that important government business should only be conducted on government devices .


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