Canada has become the latest country to ban the wildly popular social media app TikTok from government-issued phones starting Tuesday in a decision that follows similar moves in the United States and Europe.
Canada bans TikTok on government-issued devices
TikTok will therefore be removed from all government-issued mobile devices, the Treasury Board of Canada said in a statement, and users of government-issued mobile devices will be blocked from downloading the app in the future.
“The Government of Canada is committed to keeping government information secure. We regularly monitor our systems and take action to address risks,” Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said.
The decision is “being taken as a precaution, particularly given concerns about the legal regime that governs the information collected from mobile devices, and is in line with the approach of our international partners,” Fortier added. However, she noted, “we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised.”
TikTok faces intensifying scrutiny over concerns that it could be used by Beijing to spy on or influence its more than 1 billion global users, many young, as well as over data privacy concerns. The decision comes amid worsening geopolitical relations between China and some Western nations, including Canada and the U.S.
On Monday the White House said U.S. government agencies had 30 days to ensure the app had been removed from federal devices and systems, according to the Office of Management and Budget. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry told reporters Tuesday that the decision reflected an insecurity in Washington.
“How unsure of itself can the world’s top superpower be to fear a young people’s favorite app?” said spokeswoman Mao Ning. She said that such bans were an abuse of state power and “overstretching the concept of national security,” and she urged the U.S. government to “respect the principles of market economy and fair competition.”
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Monday that banning the app from government devices also would help everyday users “reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices in consequence.”
He added that the ban involving government-issued devices “may be a first step, it may be the only step” that the government needed to take.
Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have been strained in recent years, including over a suspected Chinese spy balloon that recently entered Canadian airspace and claims of election interference by China in 2021.
Separately, Canada’s federal privacy watchdog and its counterparts in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec also announced this month a joint investigation into TikTok to examine whether “the organization’s practices are in compliance with Canadian privacy legislation.”
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A spokesperson for TikTok said in an emailed statement that Canada had taken its decision “without citing any specific security concern or contacting us with questions,” and said it was “curious” that the move came only after the United States and the E.U. took similar actions.
“We are always available to meet with our government officials to discuss how we protect the privacy and security of Canadians, but singling out TikTok in this way does nothing to achieve that shared goal. All it does is prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians.”
TikTok is a private company with Western investors and international offices, but its parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing. Western politicians have expressed fears that the company’s ownership structure leaves it vulnerable to surveillance and censorship, concerns that TikTok rebuffs. TikTok has previously said that it is not unique in the information that it collects from user activity and that it is not influenced by the Chinese government.
In December, ByteDance fired four employees after an internal investigation found they had tracked two American journalists and their associates while trying to identify a company leak. TikTok has said repeatedly that employees in ByteDance’s Beijing office are restricted from accessing Americans’ data.
Last year, Congress announced a sweeping ban of the app for all employees of the federal government on their government-issued devices, citing “high risk” security concerns, and more than two dozen states have introduced similar bans.
The app also has been barred from official mobile devices at the White House, in most branches of the military and in several federal agencies, including the Homeland Security and State departments. But people who work for the government still can use TikTok on their personal devices.
This month, the European Commission also took steps to ban its staffers from using TikTok on work devices, as well on personal devices that have work-related apps installed, because of security concerns. On Tuesday, Denmark’s Parliament issued a warning to its lawmakers to remove TikTok from their work phones, citing “a risk of espionage.”
Despite governments’ taking steps to ban the app from official devices, TikTok remains hugely popular. The average American viewer watches TikTok for 80 minutes a day — more than the time spent on Facebook and Instagram combined, The Washington Post recently reported.