In line with actions taken by the European Union and the United States, the UK announced on Thursday that it will be implementing a security ban on the Chinese-owned video app TikTok on government devices. Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden confirmed the immediate implementation of this ban during a parliamentary session.
Western authorities have grown increasingly concerned about the app’s potential use and abuse of user data by Chinese officials. To address this concern, experts conducted a risk assessment of third-party apps with regard to sensitive government data, resulting in the decision to only allow access to pre-approved apps on government corporate devices used by ministers and ministries. The ban will not apply to personal devices or the general public.
ByteDance, the firm that owns TikTok, has denied keeping data in China or sharing it with Beijing. US officials have suggested that TikTok could avoid a wider national ban if it parts ways with ByteDance. In response, the Chinese foreign ministry has urged Washington to stop “unreasonably suppressing” TikTok.
The UK recently released an update to its defence and foreign policy, detailing plans to counter the “epoch-defining challenge” posed by China. As part of these plans, the UK aims to improve the resilience of critical infrastructure by strengthening security agencies. The country has previously caused controversy in China by banning Huawei’s involvement in its 5G network rollout, blocking Chinese takeovers of UK electronics groups, and removing China General Nuclear from the construction of a new power station.
While now-Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had previously promised to get tough on China, he has also emphasized the importance of continued engagement with the country since taking over from his predecessor Liz Truss in Downing Street. In July, Sunak had referred to China as the “number one threat” to domestic and global security, alleging that the country was “stealing our technology and infiltrating our universities”.