By Sam Blewett and Dominic McGrath, PA Political Staff
A decision to ban TikTok from government phones after a security review has been criticised by China.
The ban, announced on Thursday by cabinet office minister Oliver Dowden, will still allow ministers and officials to use the Chinese-owned app on their personal phones.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had been under pressure from senior MPs to follow the US and the European Union in barring the video-sharing app from official devices.
A Chinese embassy spokesperson accused the Government of acting “based on its political motive rather than facts”.
TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, said it was “disappointed” with the decision and said bans were based on “fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics”.
As ministers were urged to go further and remove it from personal devices as well, Cabinet minister and prominent parliamentary TikToker Grant Shapps vowed to continue using it with precautions on his own phone.
Mr Dowden announced the “precautionary move” – which is not being extended to members of the public – with “immediate effect”.
He said it was a prudent and proportionate step following “advice from our cyber security experts” as he noted risks around how sensitive information can be accessed by TikTok.
“The security of sensitive Government information must come first, so today we are banning this app on Government devices. The use of other data-extracting apps will be kept under review,” the minister said.
But he said there will be “limited exemptions” on some Government devices made on a “case by case basis” where the video-sharing app is required for work purposes.
Downing Street said there was no plan to delete the No 10 account.
The Cabinet Office said the ban was being imposed because TikTok users are required to hand over data including contacts, user content and geolocation data.
TikTok has long said it does not share data with China but the country’s intelligence legislation requires firms to help the Communist Party when requested. Critics fear the policy could expose Western data to Beijing.
A spokesman said: “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.”
The embassy spokesperson said that the ban “disrupts the normal operations of the relevant company in the UK, undermines the confidence of the international community in the UK’s business environment, and will ultimately harm the UK’s own interests”.
“We urge the UK side to respect facts, abide by the rules of market economy and the principle of fair competition, refrain from overstretching and abusing the concept of national security, and provide a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries,” the spokesperson said.
Conservative former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith was among those demanding that ministers and senior civil servants should be told to remove TikTok from their personal phones as well.
“Private phones are used for communications and I honestly don’t believe that whatever the complaints are, that the reality is that these private phones will never be used for Government business.
“They will be, they are, and there is no way of stopping that to some degree,” he told the Commons.
My phone is personal. Today I removed Tik Tok and I think all MPs should do likewise. #justmypersonalopinion
— Rt Hon Nadine Dorries MP (@NadineDorries) March 16, 2023
Nadine Dorries, a frequent poster on TikTok while serving as Boris Johnson’s culture secretary, tweeted: “My phone is personal. Today I removed Tik Tok and I think all MPs should do likewise.”
But Mr Shapps, the Energy Security Secretary, made clear he will continue to use it on his personal phone while taking security precautions.
Writing on TikTok, he said: “I’ve never used TikTok on Government devices and can hereby confirm I will NOT be leaving TikTok anytime soon!”
He included a clip from the Wolf Of Wall Street movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio, portraying a New York stockbroker, declares he is “not f****** leave” and the “show goes on”.
A spokeswoman for Mr Shapps said: “Grant has never used TikTok on Government devices and believes security measures – like not sharing location permission – are sensible.
“However, he is concerned that representatives of the people who deliberately choose not to engage with the public on the platforms that they actually use are unlikely to continue to represent these voters for long.”
Members of the cross-party Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China have written to the information commissioner over concerns about the protection of UK users’ data on the app.
Carolyn Harris, a member of the group and a Labour MP, tweeted: “I have deleted my TikTok account today, and will be encouraging others to do the same.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the Government was “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted” after Parliament closed its onw account last year.
“Two weeks, two ministers, two completely different policies later, and it is the same pattern over and over again, a Government behind the curve with sticking plaster solutions forced to lurch into a U-turn at the last minute,” she said.
Security minister Tom Tugendhat had asked chiefs at the National Cyber Security Centre to review the app.