National security concerns around TikTok for politicians and UK government employees are ‘significant’ - but individual teenagers’ data is probably safe , according to IT professionals.
Banning the app on government phones was ‘reasonable’, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said.
For the majority of young people in the UK using the app, the concerns are around potential ‘algorithm manipulation’, not data security, BCS added.
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 to 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.”
National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to complete security review
The UK government has asked the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to complete a security review of the platform before further action and a statement to MPs was expected this afternoon (16 March) by Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden.
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US Congress and more than half of US states have banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices. Canada has also announced bans on TikTok on government mobiles.
The European Union’s executive branch has temporarily banned TikTok from employees' phones, citing cybersecurity.
China currently blocks foreign platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
TikTok has said it has not been given an opportunity to answer questions and governments were cutting themselves off from a platform used by millions.