FBI says TikTok ‘screams’ security concern as platform announces plan to avoid UK ban

FBI director Christopher Wray raised concerns regarding how the data TikTok collects is used  (Peter Byrne/PA)
FBI director Christopher Wray raised concerns regarding how the data TikTok collects is used (Peter Byrne/PA)

TikTok has outlined its plan to avoid a ban in the UK and Europe, dubbed Project Clover.

This will see TikTok data for European users stored on servers in Ireland and Norway, in a move that will cost TikTok parent ByteDance an estimated £1.1 billion a year.

Project Clover is the European version of a similar move made for US TikTok users in June 2022, where data for US users was migrated from servers in Singapore and the US to solely US-based ones.

Will TikTok be banned in the UK?

The UK has taken a somewhat more relaxed approach to TikTok than the US or Europe.

Where the European Commission has banned TikTok from its employees’ work-related phones, a UK minister has denied any such move is planned within the UK government.

“I think that’s a personal choice… as a Conservative, I strongly believe in personal choice,” Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, told Politico.

However, the UK Parliament did shut down its own TikTok account just days after it launched, in August 2022, after MPs raised concerns about the possibility of data ending up in the hands of the Chinese government.

China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law is at the heart of concerns about the influence of Chinese companies such as ByteDance and Huawei. It states that all companies must aid the government on intelligence and national security matters if asked to do so.

This has caused some to suggest China-based companies cannot be trusted regardless of how much they may appear innocent on the surface. Once again, though, this is not the UK position.

“We have no evidence to suggest that there is a necessity to ban people from using TikTok,” Ms Donelan said. “That would be a very, very forthright move, that would require a significant evidence base.”

Is TikTok safe?

FBI director Christopher Wray takes a different view. “This is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese government.  And it, to me, it screams out with national security concern,” he said in a US Senate hearing on Wednesday March 8.

One of the concerns is that user data – including information such as a person’s location – might be harvested and used. In December 2022, TikTok admitted to “spying” on journalists to see if the company’s employees were leaking information to them.

The other danger lies in is the influencing power TikTok has, and its ability to spread misinformation to users at the behest of the Chinese government. But it doesn’t take a foreign-owned platform for such things to happen. Russia has used US-owned platforms such as FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube to spread disinformation widely, most notably regarding its invasion of Ukraine.