By Muvija M and Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Thursday it would ban TikTok on government phones with immediate effect, a move that follows other Western countries in barring the Chinese-owned video app over security concerns.
TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny due to fears that user data from the app owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests.
“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,” Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said in a statement.
The British government had asked the National Cyber Security Centre to look at the potential vulnerability of government data from social media apps and risks around how sensitive information could be accessed and used.
The United States, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission have already banned the app from official devices.
“Restricting the use of TikTok on government devices is a prudent and proportionate step following advice from our cyber security experts,” Dowden said.
TikTok said it was disappointed with the decision and had already begun taking steps to further protect European user data.
“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,” a TikTok spokesperson said.
China said the decision was based on political considerations rather than facts.
The move “interferes with the normal operations of relevant companies in the UK and will ultimately only harm the UK’s own interests”, its embassy in London said in a statement.
Dowden told parliament government devices would now only be able to access third party apps from a pre-approved list.
The TikTok ban does not the include personal devices of government employees or ministers and there would be limited exemptions where TikTok was required on government devices for work purposes, he added.
British government departments and ministers have been increasingly using TikTok and other platforms to communicate with voters.
Energy Minster Grant Shapps said the ban on government devices was sensible, but he would stay on the platform on his personal phone.
He posted a clip from the movie “Wolf of Wall Street” in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s character says “I’m not f leaving”, and “The show goes on”.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence posted a video on the platform shortly before the ban was announced showing how the British army was training Ukrainian forces to use the Challenger 2 battle tank.