Chinese-owned TikTok banned from UK government phones over spying concerns

TikTok app on iPhone
(Image credit: Future)

The U.K. has confirmed that it is banning TikTok from all government phones amid ongoing security concerns surrounding the app and its Chinese owners.

The U.K. and other countries are concerned that TikTok could potentially be a security risk to government data because of the app's possible data collection. That data could then theoretically wind up in the hands of the Chinese government.

Now, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden has confirmed that the app will be banned, saying that doing so constituted good phone "hygiene."

No countrywide ban

Sky News reports that Dowden took the time to stress that the government isn't advising members of the public to also stop using TikTok. 

"This ban applies to government corporate devices within ministerial and non-ministerial departments, but it will not extend to personal devices for government employees or ministers or the general public," he said in a statement made to MPs.

The ban will take immediate effect, although there will be "limited exemptions" on some government devices where TikTok is required for work — likely those who run the government's social media accounts, for example.

TikTok owner ByteDance said that it is "disappointed," adding that it remains "committed to working with the government to address any concerns but should be judged on facts and treated equally to our competitors."

The government has already been accused of acting too late, with many pointing to the fact that the United States had already banned TikTok from its own government devices in December 2022.

TikTok for its part contends that it does not share data with China, but it should be noted that the Chinese government can require companies within its jurisdiction to hand over data when requested. It's thought that could open the door to data being collected on international users and then given to the Chinese authorities.

ByteDance did note that it has "begun implementing a comprehensive plan to further protect our European user data, which includes storing UK user data in our European data centers and tightening data access controls, including third-party independent oversight of our approach."

TikTok's popularity has exploded in recent years, becoming stiff competition for the likes of YouTube and Instagram. It's become the go-to place for many to share their stories, whether that's a video about picking up Apple's latest and best iPhones or the latest dance craze.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.