Updated 21 March
It is now confirmed: the UK Government has done a U-turn on its relaxed position on TikTok to now ban the Chinese-owned app on all government devices after a security review.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden made the statement today: “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 UK follows the US, Canada and the EU who have already banned the social media platform on government phones, with President Biden now having authority to ban TikTok nationwide, in the fear of potential cyberattacks.
TikTok is “disappointed with this decision” and told PMW: “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.
“We remain committed to working with the government to address any concerns but should be judged on facts and treated equally to our competitors. We have begun implementing a comprehensive plan to further protect our European user data, which includes storing UK user data in our European data centres and tightening data access controls, including third-party independent oversight of our approach."
The ban does not extend to personal devices for government employees, ministers or the general public.
The BBC has also advised staff to delete TikTok from company phones over security fears since the government ban. They are the second media broadcast in the world to do this, after Denmark's public service broadcaster. The BBC has said that it will continue to use it in editorial and marketing purposes for now.
Ripple effect for consumers and brands
The ban comes as governments are becoming increasingly wary of the app, owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, and its links to spy threats. It stores large amounts of user data, including biometric and location data, not dissimilar to Instagram and Twitter.
However, the fear is that the information gathered by TikTok could be passed to the Chinese government, since in 2017 a national security law was passed in China requiring organisations and citizens to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work”.
“Today’s decision to ban TikTok from UK government phones isn’t unexpected as it follows a precedent set by other Western countries,” commented Thomas Walters, Europe CEO and Co-founder of global influencer agency Billion Dollar Boy. “However, the move could have a more surprising ripple effect for consumers and brands as unease over the platform’s future grows. This ban could significantly shake up the social media landscape in the UK.
“The concern is that this ban could spook some consumers and brands, reducing the amount of time and investment they put into the platform. This presents a challenge for brands and content creators who have amassed large followings on TikTok, and whose content doesn’t translate across to other platforms perfectly.
Walters added: “It does, however, create opportunities for other platforms to capitalise. An immediate solution for brands and creators is to pivot to Instagram and YouTube’s equivalent short form video content formats – Reels and Shorts, respectively – which are increasing in popularity.
“As for TikTok, the platform will need to reassure users and stakeholders of its compliance to fair and transparent data handling to avoid any further damage. That could see TikTok’s Chinese owners having to divest their stakes in it, and/or a split from parent company, ByteDance.”