TikTok Restrictions

Following a security review the UK announced in March 2023 that TikTok would be banned on government devices.  While this action has some elements in common with the WhatsApp restrictions recently announced the purpose is more closely linked to national security.

Other governments that have already banned TikTok on official devices include the USA, EU and Canada.  Their shared concern is that TikTok harvests personal data from its users and that as a company based in mainland China it could use that information for its own interests.  Scenarios might include tracking foreign diplomats and journalists and exposing the source of leaks from within supposedly loyal organisations. It could also manipulate its recommendation algorithms to hide content harmful to the Chinese regime or promote favourable content.   A March 2023 report by the Internet Governance Project on TikTok and US Government security showed that although this might be possible there were no signs of harmful activity.   TikTok itself has denied such claims and has moved its USA users’ data to Texas housed Oracle servers to counter assertions that data is being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party.   Despite this there is some evidence that as recently as January 2022 information on USA users was still being accessed by TikTok officials in China.

Unlike WhatsApp it is unlikely that a government or military official would have a reasonable cause to use TikTok in the course of their usual work.  Anyone whose business might impact on China should be cautious and avoid any use of TikTok.  Casual video creators and users are probably safe with the platform.

TikTok has been banned completely in some countries including India and Taiwan who have close borders and fragile relationships with Mainland China.  The USA itself might ban TikTok outright if the RESTRICT Act, (the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act) were to pass into law.  This direction of legislature throws up similar concerns to the UK Online Safety Bill.  These laws cannot target named organisations because they are designed to combat specific use cases, including those that might be launched in the future of the web.  Concerns are based around the need to protect privacy but also allow freedom of expression all while enabling someone to control what is going on.   The RESTRICT Act and possibly the UK Online Safety Bill would make it illegal to use a VPN to connect to a banned service. So if the USA were to ban TikTok through this act it would also be banning the use of a VPN to access TikTok from within the USA (with a penalty of up to 25 years prison time).

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