The United Kingdom announced a security ban on the Chinese-owned video app TikTok on government devices on Thursday, following the lead of the European Union and the United States.
“We will do so immediately,” Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons.
Western authorities have been increasingly tough on the app, which is owned by the firm Bytedance, citing concerns that user data could be used or abused by Chinese officials.
According to Oliver Dowden, experts conducted a risk assessment of third-party apps in relation to sensitive government data. Government devices will only be able to access apps on a pre-approved list as part of the measures.
The ban will only apply to “government corporate devices” used by ministers and ministries, not to personal devices or to the general public.
“This is a proportionate move,” Dowden said, urging users to use “caution” when downloading apps.
ByteDance has long maintained that it does not store or share data in China. According to US officials, if TikTok separates from ByteDance, it will avoid a broader national ban.
On Thursday, Beijing’s foreign ministry urged Washington to stop “unreasonably suppressing” TikTok, which claims over a billion global users.
“The US has yet to produce evidence that TikTok threatens US national security,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the company, told reporters.
The UK this week detailed plans to counter what it said was the “epoch-defining challenge” posed by China, in an update to its defence and foreign policy.
Since leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom has sought new markets and influence in Asia, in part to counter China. One of its plans is to strengthen security agencies in order to improve the resilience of critical infrastructure.
The UK has previously enraged China by prohibiting Huawei from participating in the country’s 5G network rollout. It has also blocked Chinese takeovers of UK electronics groups and removed China General Nuclear from construction of a new power station.
When he bid unsuccessfully to take over from Boris Johnson in July, now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to get tough on China, calling the Asian superpower the “number one threat” to domestic and global security.
He claimed at the time that China was “stealing our technology and infiltrating our universities”.