Tuesday, 28 Mar 2023

Why is TikTok banned from government phones and should the rest of us be worried?

Why is TikTok banned from government phones and should the rest of us be worried?


Why is TikTok banned from government phones  and should the rest of us be worried?

TikTok is wildly popular, with more than 1 billion people consuming its short video posts around the world. But the app is less favoured by politicians in key markets such as the US and UK, where it has been banned from government-issued phones over security fears. We answer your questions about why TikTok has become a lightning rod for suspicion of Chinese state espionage - and whether nationwide bans are likely.

The main concerns with TikTok relate to data and the fact that it is owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance, a Chinese internet company. Could the Chinese state demand access to data generated by TikTok's global user base and, for instance, create profiles of people it is interested in, such as government employees in other countries?

The UK government raised data concerns in its statement explaining why it was taking the "prudent" step of removing TikTok from government-issued devices. It said the app was able to access user data from devices, including contacts and geolocation. According to a report by the Australian-US cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0, TikTok's app can access a user's calendar, other running applications, wifi networks, and even the sim card serial number.

Referring to similar bans by the US, Canada and the European Commission, the UK government said: "The government, along with our international partners, is concerned about the way in which this data may be used."

TikTok maintains that its data is stored outside China in Singapore and the US. It is also proposing to store American and European user data in third-party servers in the US, Ireland and Norway. This has not been enough to assuage the concerns of critics, who also fear that the Chinese state could manipulate TikTok's recommendation algorithm, which curates what people see on the app's For You feed.

The government said the "proportionate step" did not extend to personal devices for civil servants, ministers or the general public. However, it added that individuals should be aware of "each social media platform's data policies" before downloading them.

TikTok has updated its privacy policy to tell European users that their data can be accessed in China - in specific circumstances. The decision to declare TikTok a risk on government devices but not on anyone else's has led to experts calling for more clarity.

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