People should delete TikTok from their phones to protect their personal data from “hostile” threats, according to a senior Conservative MP.
Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said users should “without question” get rid of the app as she suggested the video-sharing platform is linked to China’s efforts to build a “tech totalitarian state”.
There have long been concerns around TikTok over its links to China because its parent company, ByteDance, was founded in the country, and critics have raised fears data could be passed to the Chinese state.
In December, TikTok executive Liz Kanter insisted the platform has not been asked for UK user data by the Chinese government and would not provide it if it was.
Speaking after the United States shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon, Ms Kearns told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “We are being naive.
Chinese Balloons 🧵This incident is a reminder that China has a very real interest in our capabilities, will continue to test our abilities, and has no respect for int'l norms.
We should see it in perspective, we have graver concerns but it is more evidence of 🇨🇳 espionage 1/
— Alicia Kearns MP (@aliciakearns) February 4, 2023
“TikTok gave evidence to my committee where they said there was no way that individuals working in China could get access to the data of Britons.
“But what we’ve now seen is that people working in China for TikTok hacked into European data so it could track down the source of a journalist.
“Because what TikTok does is it gives away the data that makes you most vulnerable: who are you friends with; what are your interests; what are the interests you have that you may not want publicly disclosed; who you are having private conversations with; the locations you go to.
“There’s a reason why China has this app. There’s a reason why they’re buying up gay dating apps.
“Our data is a key vulnerability and China is building a tech totalitarian state on the back of our data.
“So we have to get far more serious about protecting ourselves.
“And yes, while balloons are an important diplomatic spike in opportunity to have this conversation, our bigger concerns are the data penetration, pathway dependency that China is creating on Chinese companies, the way in which they’re intimidating those who sought refuge in the UK and around the world.”
Asked if she is advising people to delete TikTok from their phones, Ms Kearns replied: “Without question.
“I don’t have it on my phone and it’s fascinating how often you speak to people and they go ‘I’m going home tonight to have a serious conversation with my children’.
“It is not worth having that vulnerability on your phone and it is the ultimate data source for anyone with hostile efforts.
“The fact is, now this isn’t just me saying ‘I’m worried, delete it’, we have evidence that TikTok has been used to track down sources for journalists.
“Everyone should be concerned about that.”
A TikTok spokesman said: “TikTok is enjoyed by millions of people across the UK, and we want to be clear that they can trust us with their data.
“We’re taking steps like storing UK user data in our data centre operations in Ireland, starting this year; further reducing employee access to data; and minimising data flows outside of Europe.
“We have written to Ms Kearns on a number of occasions to ensure she has all the facts and information available and we look forward to having constructive engagement with her on these important issues in the near future.”