The Cabinet Office has announced a ban on the social media app TikTok on government digital devices.
It said this comes after a review of the potential security risks in how sensitive information could be accessed and used by some platforms. This led it to conclude that a “precautionary ban” on TikTok should be introduced for corporate devices in all government departments.
The move is in line similar restrictions imposed by other governments including the US and Canada, and the European Commission.
It reflects widely aired concerns that, as a Chinese company, TikTok could hand over data to that country’s government. According to a report by the BBC TikTok has denied the allegations.
The app requires users to give it permission to access data stored on the device, which is then collected and stored by the company. This gives the company access to data including contacts, user content and geolocation data.
The Cabinet Office said that currently there is limited use of TikTok within government and limited need for staff to use the app on work devices, but that it is still concerned about the way in which the data may be used.
It added that the ban does not extend to personal devices for government employees, ministers or the public, but what warned that people should be aware of each social media platform’s data policies before downloading them.
Some exemptions are being put in place where required for work purposes, to be granted by security teams on a case-by-case basis with ministerial clearance and security mitigations in place. They will cover areas such as individuals working in relevant enforcement roles and to reduce online harms.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said: “The security of sensitive government information must come first, so today we are banning this app on government devices. The use of other data extracting apps will be kept under review.
“Restricting the use of TikTok on Government devices is a prudent and proportionate step following advice from our cyber security experts.”
The announcement won the support of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, which described it as “reasonable” and pointed out that China currently blocks foreign platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.
Its group chief executive Rashik Parma said: “It is reasonable to expect that social media linked to a non-allied state should not be on the devices of government officials. Building public trust in technology is vital at this time when the apps we use every day are so closely linked to geopolitics.”
Lisa Forte of BCS’s Information Security specialist group added: “The ByteDance policy of harvesting the data you put into the app (personal details, or metadata embedded in videos) is significant for groups of people entrusted with sensitive information on a professional basis.
“The people who should be concerned are politicians, government civil servants, CEOs of tech companies that generate lots of intellectual property, or journalists.
“So it is right for the UK to look to limit or restrict certain groups having the app on their work phones, as other countries are doing.”