On security grounds, British government ministers have been barred from using the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on their work phones and devices.
The government is concerned that sensitive data stored on official phones may be accessed by the Chinese government.
Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden stated that the ban was a “precautionary” measure that would take effect immediately.
TikTok has categorically denied allegations that it provides data to the Chinese government.
Theo Bertram, the app’s vice-president of government relations and public policy in Europe, told the BBC it believed the decision was based on “more on geopolitics than anything else”.
“We asked to be judged on the facts, not on people’s fears,” he added.
The Chinese embassy in London said the move was motivated by politics “rather than facts” and would “undermine the confidence of the international community in the UK’s business environment”.
Mr Dowden said he would not advise the public against using TikTok, but they should always “consider each social media platform’s data policies before downloading and using them”.
Senior MPs pressed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to follow the lead of the United States and the European Union in banning the video-sharing app from official government devices.
However, government departments – and individual ministers – have embraced TikTok as a means of reaching out to younger people.
The app’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, with 3.5 billion downloads worldwide.
Its success stems not only from how simple it is to record short videos with music and fun filters, but also from its algorithm, which is adept at serving up videos that are appealing to specific users.
It is able to do so because it collects a wealth of information about users, such as their age, location, device, and even typing rhythms, while cookies track their activity elsewhere on the internet.
This is also done by US-based social media sites, but TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance has been accused of being influenced by Beijing.
Downing Street, which most recently posted a TikTok video of Larry the Cat predicting football results, said it would keep using TikTok to spread the government’s message. It stated that there were some exceptions to the ban.
Despite the security warnings, some politicians are hesitant to give up their TikTok habit.
Cabinet minister Grant Shapps – an enthusiastic TikTokker – reacted to the ban by posting a clip from the film, Wolf Of Wall Street, in which Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a New York stockbroker, uses a series of expletives and declares: “The show goes on”.
Mr Shapps described the ban as “reasonable,” but added, “I’ve never used TikTok on government devices and can hereby confirm I will NOT be leaving TikTok anytime soon!”
Ministers are not prohibited from using the site on their personal phones, only on work devices.
However, Nadine Dorries, who experimented with TikTok videos as Culture Secretary, said she would delete the app from her personal phone, adding, “I believe all MPs should do the same.”