TikTok banned from UK government phones over security concerns

TikTok has been banned from Government phones.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden announced the ban in a statement to Parliament, saying there was a risk about how sensitive data could be used on certain platforms.

He said: “Social media apps collect and store huge amounts of user data, including contacts, user content and geolocation data. On Government devices, that data can be sensitive and so today we're strengthening the security of those devices in two key respects.

“First, we're moving to a system where Government devices will only be able to access third party apps that are on a pre-approved list. This system is already in place across many departments, now it will be the rule across Government.

“Second, we're also going to ban the use of TikTok on Government devices. We will do so with immediate effect. This is a precautionary move. We know that there is already limited use of TikTok across Government but it is also good cyber hygiene.

"Given the particular risk around Government devices which may contain sensitive information, it is both prudent and proportionate to restrict the use of certain apps - particularly when it comes to apps where a large amount of data can be stored and accessed."

He said the TikTok ban will not apply to personal devices for ministers or Government employees. Energy Secretary Grant Shapps has vowed to keep using the social media platform on his personal phone.

TikTok is already banned from official phones issued by the EU, while the US bars its use on federal government devices.

A TikTok spokesperson said it was “disappointed” with the move.

“We believe these bans have been based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics, in which TikTok, and our millions of users in the UK, play no part,” said the spokesperson.

“We remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns but should be judged on facts and treated equally to our competitors.”

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre had been reviewing whether TikTok should be barred from government phones.

Speaking about the review earlier this week, security minister Tom Tugendhat stressed the need for apps to be “useful tools” for people rather than capable of being “spyware” to target them.

He added: “What certainly is clear is for many young people TikTok is now a news source and, just as it’s quite right we know who owns the news sources in the UK... it’s important we know who owns the news sources that are feeding into our phones.”

TikTok is owned by China’s ByteDance, which moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020.

The company has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots, saying its parent company is incorporated outside of China and that it is majority owned by global institutional investors.

However, it has been dogged by fears in the West that the app could be used to amplify pro-China narratives, and could be a security concern by handing data to Beijing.

TikTok strongly denies allegations of handing users’ data to the Chinese government.

Earlier this week, the UK described China as an “epoch-defining challenge” to the international order in a review of its foreign and defence policy.

However, some hawkish Conservative backbenchers had pushed for the Government to go further, including by describing China as a “threat” in the review.