Parliament shuts down TikTok account after MPs raise concerns app is ‘Chinese government spyware’

Written by Sam Trendall on 4 August 2022 in News
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Campaign led by Wealden MP results in closure of account with video-sharing platform

Credit: Solen Feyissa/CC BY-SA 2.0

The UK Parliament has shut down its TikTok account after MPs led a successful campaign warning of the security risks created by the likelihood of data being transferred to Chinese authorities.

The video-sharing app and website is owned by Beijing-headquartered firm ByteDance, which developed the software behind it 10 years ago. After parliament recently created a TikTok account, a group of four MPs and two peers last week wrote to the speakers of both the House of Lords and Commons to reveal that they were “surprised and disappointed” by the news and to express their concerns.

The group, led by Conservative MP for Wealden Nus Ghani, claimed that “TikTok data is routinely transferred to China”.

The letter added that company executives from the social media firm “may have misled parliament” about this during an appearance before a select committee last year.

"Data security risks associated with the app are the considerable,” the group wrote. “Under the 2017 Intelligence Security Law of the PRC (People’s Republic of China), Chinese companies are required to yield data to the PRC upon request, and may not reveal that they have done so when asked.”


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The missive said that TikTok managers had been unable to provide assurances that they could prevent data collected by the platform being transferred to its Chinese parent company – which, in turn, would be “legally obliged to hand over UK data to the PRC authorities, if requested”.

“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,” it added. “While efforts made to engage young people in the history and functioning of parliament should always be welcomed, we cannot and should legitimise the use of an app which has been described by tech experts as ‘essentially Chinese government spyware’.”

The speakers of parliament’s two houses, Lindsay Hoyle in the Commons and Lord McFall in the Lords, wrote back in response this week to reveal that, following the concerns raised, parliament’s TitTok account will be shut down straight away. 

The decision to create it in the first place was a “pilot project” on which the speakers said they were not consulted.

“But, over the last few days, we have discussed the initiative with officials,” they said. “The account was an attempt to engage with younger audiences – who are not always active on our existing social media platforms – regarding the work of parliament. However, in light of your feedback and concerns expressed to us, we have decided that the account should be closed with immediate effect.”

Ghani was joined in her campaign by three other Conservative MPs – Iain Duncan Smith, Tim Loughton and Tom Tugendhat – as well as two representatives from the Lords: Labour’s Baroness Kennedy, and Lord Alton a crossbench peer.

An update on Ghani’s website said: “Nusrat is most grateful to the speakers… for standing up for our values and protecting our data. The next step will now be to establish whether TikTok representatives misled the BEIS Select Committee.”

Numerous other public bodies and their representatives remain active on the social network, with users including the Prime Minister's Office. 

Duncan Smith said that this –along with all other official accounts of government and MPs – should be closed down as soon as possible.

“They now need to heed that lesson [from parliament] because for too long we’ve been pretending otherwise," he told the Guardian.

 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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