TikTok goes the clock – could the social media giant soon be banned in the UK?

As tensions continue to rise between the UK and China, there are continuing calls for the site to be banned in Britain.

Popular video-sharing platform TikTok may be banned from the UK following a halt on talks to set up its HQ in London as Anglo-Chinese relations harden. Among the tens of thousands of jobs lost within Britain already due to the coronavirus pandemic, this puts an additional 3,000 at risk.This comes as a result of continuing accusations by both US and British officials that its parent company ByteDance, a Chinese company based in Beijing, will extract user data and provide it to the Chinese government.

On Monday, senior Conservative MPs voiced concerns over the platform’s links to ByteDance and the national security risks this might impose. Former Conservative Party Leader and Co-chair of the Inter-parliamentary Alliance on China, Sir Ian Duncan Smith, told the House of Commons that this was “as much as a threat to Britain” as Huawei, whose 5G kit was banned in the UK earlier this month. However, it was reported that the government privately told Huawei that this was due to “geopolitical” tensions, perhaps indicating that pressure from the Trump Administration played a decisive role in the decision.

In an interview with Fox News earlier in July, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that people should download TikTok “only if [they] wanted [their] private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”. It also follows that the Trump Administration is considering putting TikTok on a blacklist amidst national security concerns. Should this happen, the US may apply the same pressure to prohibit the platform as the UK did with Huawei.

TikTok has denied allegations to links with the Chinese government or that the Chinese Communist Party could access its users’ data. Director for Public Policy in Europe, Theo Bertram told the BBC that suggestions that the company is “under the thumb of the Chinese government” are false.

The recent appointment of Kevin Meyer as CEO of TikTok and COO of ByteDance, points away from connections to Beijing given that Meyer is American, and was previously head of streaming at entertainment company Walt Disney Studios. Along with the fact that TikTok is currently headquartered and incorporated in California, the social media site is keen to shake off ties with China in an attempt to please the Western powers that account for a sizeable share of its user base. With over 3.7 million active users in the UK and 745,000 new British downloads in March alone, TikTok is fast becoming the most popular social media app during the coronavirus pandemic with 2 billion users globally.

However, calls for the platform to be banned are not unfounded.

Dr Alan Mendoza of the Henry Jackson Society – a foreign policy think-tank aimed at promoting liberal democratic values throughout the world – interviewed with the Sun:

“[E]very major Chinese company [eg. ByteDance] must have an internal CCP Committee of its staff who get indoctrinated…China has a domestic law which states that any Chinese company has to comply with a request by the Chinese state to provide data, or anything for that matter, that the Chinese state wants”.  He then went on to say that if TikTok were required by the Chinese government to hand over data in compliance with Internet Security laws, it would not be able to protect its data integrity.

If TikTok is banned in the UK, it is certain to be met with widespread anger among its users, pointing to the larger question of Western relations with China.

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