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TikTok ban on UK government phones is ‘reasonable’, says BCS

National security concerns around TikTok for politicians and UK government employees are ‘significant’ and banning the app on government phones is ‘reasonable’, according to Swindon-based BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

BCS was responding to a move by the government announced today (Thursday) to ban the popular Chinese-owned social media app on phones and other devices issued to government ministers and civil servants.

But for the majority of civilian users the concerns are around potential ‘algorithm manipulation’, not data security, BCS added.

The move – which follows following a review by the National Cyber Security Centre – puts the UK in line with policy in the EU and US. The UK Parliament closed its TikTok account last August and the Downing Street TikTok page has not been updated since Boris Johnson left office in September.

BCS’ group chief executive, Rashik Parmar MBE, said: “It is reasonable to expect that social media linked to a non-allied state should not be on the devices of government officials. Building public trust in technology is vital at this time, when the apps we use every day are so closely linked to geo-politics.”

Lisa Forte, of BCS’ information security specialist group added: “The ByteDance policy of harvesting the data you put into the app – personal details, or metadata embedded in videos – is significant for groups of people entrusted with sensitive information on a professional basis.

“The people who should be concerned are politicians, government civil servants, CEOs of tech companies that generate lots of intellectual property (IP), or journalists.

“So it is right for the UK to look to limit or restrict certain groups having the app on their work phones, as other countries are doing.

“The individual risk to a random UK teenager is small; the risk to the ordinary person lies not in the data harvesting – which is not unique to TikTok anyway – but more in the manipulation of the algorithm to young people in the UK see certain types of content.

“There are suggestions that in China the algorithm prioritises educational content whereas in Europe it prioritises dance videos and polarising material.”

The UK government has asked the National Cyber Security Council (NCSC) to complete a security review of the platform before further action.

TikTok has said it not been given an opportunity to answer questions and governments were cutting themselves off from a platform used by millions.

Image by Solen Feyissa, published under Creative Commons licence

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