NEWS21 March 2023

TikTok faces BBC and government phone restrictions

News Privacy Public Sector Technology UK

UK – The BBC has advised staff to delete TikTok from their phones, following on from a UK government ban on having the social media app on government electronic devices.

smartphone screen showing tiktok app and other social media icons

The BBC has not officially banned any use of TikTok on phones, but has warned staff about its use on corporate phones unless there is an editorial or business reason, according to BBC technology editor Zoe Kleinman.

An email circulated among BBC staff on Sunday said that the decision was based on “concerns raised by government authorities worldwide regarding data privacy and security”.

Last week, the government announced that following a security review, it had decided to introduce a precautionary ban on TikTok on government devices.

The security review looked at the potential vulnerability of government data from social media apps on devices and risks about how platforms could access and use sensitive information.

TikTok requires users to give permission for the app to access data stored on the device, which is then collected and stored by the company, according to the UK’s statement.

The UK government has argued that allowing such permissions gives the company access to a range of data on the device, including contacts, user content and geolocation data.

The government has argued there is limited use of and need for TikTok on its staff phones.

Specific exemptions for the use of TikTok on government devices are being granted by security teams on a case-by-case basis, with ministerial clearance as appropriate and with security mitigations put in place.

The exemptions cover areas such as individuals working in relevant enforcement roles, or who work on online harms.

There is no ban in place for government ministers or staff using TikTok on their personal devices, and the use of other data-extracting apps will be kept under review.

The government’s decision brings UK policy in line with that of the US and Canadian governments and the European Union.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said: “The security of sensitive government information must come first.

“Restricting the use of TikTok on Government devices is a prudent and proportionate step following advice from our cyber security experts.”

Discussing the UK government ban, a TikTok spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with this decision. 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.”

Speaking about the BBC policy, a TikTok spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the guidance that the BBC has shared but welcome the fact TikTok can still be used as part of editorial, marketing and reporting purposes.

“The BBC has a strong presence on our platform, with multiple accounts from news through to music reaching our engaged community both in the UK and around the world. We remain in close dialogue with the BBC and are committed to working with them to address any concerns they have.”