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BBC urges staff to delete TikTok from company mobile phones

<span>Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

The BBC has urged its staff to delete the Chinese-own social media app TikTok from corporate mobile phones.

Guidance to BBC staff circulated on Sunday said: “We don’t recommend installing TikTok on a BBC corporate device unless there is a justified business reason. If you do not need TikTok for business reasons, TikTok should be deleted.”

The move comes after the UK government banned the app on government-issued phones amid fears of sensitive data being accessed by the Chinese government, owing to its ownership by the Chinese internet company ByteDance.

Explaining the move, the BBC guidance said: “The decision is based on concerns raised by government authorities worldwide regarding data privacy and security.” The BBC asked employees who have TikTok on their personal phones, but also use those devices for work reasons, to contact the organisation’s information security team in order to discuss “the type of BBC information that you are working with”.

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Related: Why is TikTok banned from government phones – and should the rest of us be worried?

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC takes the safety and security of our systems, data and people incredibly seriously. We constantly review activity on third-party platforms – including TikTok – and will continue to do so.”

The corporation said the use of TikTok on BBC corporate devices – which have been bought and paid for by the organisation – was still permitted for editorial and marketing purposes. But the spokesperson said the BBC would continue to monitor and assess the situation.

The move marks a sharp change in approach from the BBC, which has embraced TikTok as a way of reaching new audiences. Its TikTok channel has been running for more than a year and it has recruited a team of four TikTok specialists.

Earlier this month Denmark’s DR became the first national broadcaster to ban TikTok from staff work devices. It has gone further than the BBC by requiring staff to use only designated TikTok phones if they need the app for research purposes.

On Friday the Cabinet Office said the government’s decision to ban TikTok from government phones was a “prudent and proportionate step”, after China criticised the move. The government said the ban did not extend to personal devices for government employees, ministers or the general public.

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. Referring to similar government phone bans in the US, Canada, Belgium and the European Commission, the Cabinet Office said: “The government, along with our international partners, is concerned about the way in which this data may be used.”

TikTok says it does not share data with China, but the country’s intelligence legislation requires companies to help the Communist party when requested. Critics fear this policy could expose data to Beijing, amid growing concerns about how China could use technology against the west. There are also concerns that the Chinese state could gain access to the TikTok’s recommendation algorithm, which curates what users see on the app, in order to manipulate what they view on the app’s main “For You” feed.

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Britain accused ministers of acting “based on its political motive rather than facts”.

Last week TikTok described the UK ban as “based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics”. However, its denials of Chinese state interference have failed to convince the US government, which stepped up the pressure on TikTok significantly last week. TikTok said the Biden administration had asked TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the business, a move the company said would not address data concerns.

TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, will be questioned by lawmakers in Washington DC on Thursday. Referring to the sale demand last week, he said: “So far I haven’t heard anything that cannot actually be solved by this.”

TikTok has more than 1 billion users worldwide, including more than 100 million in the US. Previous attempts by the Trump administration to ban TikTok in the US, and to make the company sell stakes to US companies, foundered in the face of legal objections brought by the company.

TikTok said: “We are disappointed with the guidance that the BBC has shared but welcome the fact TikTok can still be used as part of editorial, marketing and reporting purposes. The BBC has a strong presence on our platform, with multiple accounts from news through to music reaching our engaged community both in the UK and around the world.

“We believe these bans have been based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics. We remain in close dialogue with the BBC and are committed to working with them to address any concerns they have.”