Time’s up: UK Parliament shuts down its TikTok account

Published by Scott Challinor on August 4th 2022, 12:01am

The UK Parliament has shut down its account on social media app TikTok, amid security concerns.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, which has previously denied that it has direct links to the Chinese state.

A group of several MPs and peers – who had been sanctioned by the Chinese government last year for speaking out against Beijing’s human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims - had raised issue over the potential for data being made accessible to the Chinese government through the app. 

They also voiced that they were “surprised and disappointed” by Parliament’s decision to open a TikTok account in the first place, amid “considerable” data security risks associated with it.

Those in opposition had called for the account to be taken down until TikTok could credibly assure that no data would be passed on to China.

In a letter, the opposing group of MPs and peers added: “The prospect of Xi Jinping's government having access to personal data on our children's phones ought to be a cause for major concern” and that TikTok had failed to “reassure MPs that the company could prevent data transfer to ByteDance, should the parent company make a request for it.”

Now, the UK Parliament’s account on the app has been locked and all content deleted within days of it being opened.

A spokesperson for Parliament said: “Based on member feedback, we are closing the pilot UK Parliament TikTok account earlier than we had planned.

“The account was a pilot initiative while we tested the platform as a way of reaching younger audiences with relevant content about Parliament.”

A spokesperson for the social media app called the closure of Parliament’s account “disappointing”, and said the social platform would be happy to “clarify any inaccuracies” around the app.

The BBC reports that TikTok has written to the signatories of the opposing letter in Parliament, offering such clarification around its steps to ensure data protection.

TikTok’s vice president for government relations and public policy in Europe, Theo Bertram, had also written to Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee as recently as July, claiming that TikTok had “never been asked to provide user data to the Chinese government, nor would we if asked.”

Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss has suggested at a recent hustings that the UK should be “cracking down” on businesses like TikTok that could pose security issues, to ensure those operating in the UK follow domestic rules and cannot export data for malicious purposes.

It is not the first time that the UK has raised concerns over Chinese technology and potential data security risks, after tech company Huawei was barred from Britain’s 5G mobile networks two years ago. All equipment in the UK's mobile data infrastructure provided by the firm must now be removed within the next five years.

These security concerns have strained Westminster’s relationship with the Chinese regime, with tensions exacerbated by China’s opposition to human rights abuse condemnation coming from the UK last year.

China accused critics, which include former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, of spreading “lies and misinformation” about its treatment of Uyghurs in northwest China.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
August 4th 2022, 12:01am

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