The UK has become the latest major jurisdiction to ban TikTok from government devices. The measure is in place with immediate effect following a security review ordered by ministers. The move is part of broader restrictions on third-party apps on government devices.
"The security of sensitive government information must come first, so today we are banning this app on government devices," Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden, the government's second highest-ranking minister, said in a statement. "The use of other data-extracting apps will be kept under review."
Dowden noted in Parliament that this is a precautionary measure. "We know there is already limited use of TikTok across government, but it is also good cyber hygiene," he said.
The ban is intended to protect sensitive data on government devices as well to prevent things like location data harvesting. The measure doesn't apply to personal devices belonging to government employees, ministers or the public. In addition, the UK government will only allow its staff to use a third-party app on an official device if it's on an approved list.
There will be exceptions to the TikTok ban in cases where the app is needed for work purposes, such as for law enforcement or those working on projects related to online harms. These exceptions will be granted on a case-by-case basis and security measures will need to be in place.
The government noted that people should be aware of each app's data policies. It said TikTok requires users to give permission for the app to access certain information stored on a phone or tablet, such as geolocation data and contacts. Officials say they are worried about how this data may be used.
Leaders in many countries and other territories have expressed concern that China may gain access to their residents' or officials' data through TikTok. ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is headquartered in Beijing. Many legislatures have banned TikTok from government-owned devices in recent months, including the US, dozens of states, Canada and the European Commission.
On Wednesday, it was widely reported (and confirmed by TikTok) that the US government has told ByteDance to sell the app or face a complete ban in the country. There are several pieces of legislation in progress that seek to grant President Joe Biden or the Commerce Secretary the power to ban TikTok. The reported development comes almost three years after former President Donald Trump attempted to force ByteDance to sell TikTok and a week before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify before a House committee.