The BBC has urged its staff to delete Chinese social media app TikTok from corporate mobile phones.
Guidance to BBC staff that was circulated on Sunday said: “We do not recommend installing TikTok on a BBC corporate device unless there is a justified business reason. If you don’t 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 that sensitive data would be accessed by the Chinese government, due to ownership by Chinese internet company ByteDance.
Explaining the change, the BBC’s guidance said: “The decision is based on concerns raised by government authorities around the world regarding data privacy and security.” The BBC has asked employees who have TikTok on their personal phones, but also use these devices for work reasons, to contact the organisation’s information security team to discuss “the type of BBC information you is working”.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC takes the 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 were bought and paid for by the organization – is still permitted for editorial and marketing purposes. But the spokesman said the BBC will continue to monitor and assess the situation.
The move marks a sharp change in approach for the BBC, which has embraced TikTok as a way to reach new audiences. His TikTok channel has been up and running for over a year now and has recruited a team of four TikTok experts.
Earlier this month, DR Denmark became the first national broadcaster to ban TikTok from staff work devices. It has gone further than the BBC in requiring employees to only use designated TikTok phones if they need the app for research purposes.
On Friday, Cabinet said the government’s decision to ban TikTok from government phones was a “prudent and proportionate measure” after China criticized the move. The government said the ban does not extend to personal devices for government officials, ministers or the general public.
The Cabinet Office said the ban was 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 how this data could be used.”
TikTok says it doesn’t share data with China, but the country’s intelligence legislation requires companies to help the communist party when asked. Critics fear that policy could expose data to Beijing, amid growing concerns about how China could use the technology against the West. There are also concerns that the Chinese state could gain access to TikTok’s recommendation algorithm, which curates what users see in the app, in order to manipulate what they see in the app’s main “For You” feed.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Britain accused the ministers of acting “on political grounds rather than facts”.
Last week, TikTok described the UK ban as “based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by broader geopolitics”. However, his denials of Chinese state interference have failed to convince the US government, which has significantly increased pressure on TikTok in the past 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 chief executive Shou Zi Chew will be questioned by lawmakers in Washington DC on Thursday. Referring to last week’s sales demand, he said: “So far I haven’t heard anything that can’t be addressed with this.”
TikTok has over 1 billion users worldwide, including over 100 million in the US. Previous attempts by the Trump administration to ban TikTok in the U.S. and to get the company to sell stakes to U.S. companies have failed in the face of legal objections filed by the company.
TikTok said: “We are disappointed by the guidance the BBC has shared, but welcome the fact that 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 to music, reaching our engaged community in the UK and around the world.
“We believe these bans were based on fundamental misconceptions and driven by broader geopolitics. We remain in close dialogue with the BBC and are committed to working with them to resolve any concerns they have.”