A cabinet minister has refused to rule out a ban on TikTok on government devices amid concerns about users’ data privacy. The social media app is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
Critics of China argue that the national government could demand tech firms such as TikTok, whose parent company is headquartered in Beijing, hand over user information.
ByteDance has repeatedly said it does not share data with China, saying decisions taken by the US and EU to ban the app were based on “misplaced fears”.
Tom Tugendhat, who attends cabinet as security minister, was asked this morning if he wanted to see TikTok banned from government devices.
He told Sky News: “There are many different apps that you can load onto your phone. I haven’t personally loaded TikTok for many reasons you can probably guess”.
He added: “But understanding exactly what the challenges that these apps pose and what they are asking for and how they’re reaching into our lives is incredibly important”.
It comes as the prime minister indicated yesterday that the UK could follow the US and EU by banning TikTok from government devices.
Asked by ITV News if the government was considering a ban, Rishi 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.”
In a further interview with BBC News, Mr Sunak added: “We take security of our devices seriously.”
Mr Tugendhat, a well-known China hawk who served as foreign affairs committee chair before entering government, confirmed that he had asked cyber security experts to look into the app.
The Sunday Times reported that a review of TikTok is being carried out by the government security group and that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had identified security risks related to the app
Asked what would happen if the NCSC, a subsidiary of GCHQ, said TikTok was a security threat, Mr Tugendhat did not rule out a ban.
He said: “Understanding exactly what challenges these apps pose and exactly how they are reaching into our lives is incredibly important, that’s why I’ve asked the national security centre to look into this.
“Different countries have taken different approaches. The Indian government has banned TikTok and many other apps. The US government has taken different choices in terms of their government phones.
“For many young people, TikTok is now a news source, and just as it’s quite right that we know who owns the news sources in the UK whether it’s News International or Mirror Group, it’s important we know who owns the news sources”.
The US banned TikTok from federal government devices in December, and Canada and the EU’s executive arm followed suit last month.
Meanwhile, the US, UK and Australia have unveiled details of their plan to create a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, also aimed at countering the challenge posed by China.
Under the Aukus pact, Australia is to get its first nuclear-powered subs from the US to strengthen their presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing has said the major naval deal “hurts peace and stability”.