The backlash against Chinese social media channel TikTok has intensified, following the news that the BBC has advised all its employees to delete the app from their work phones.
The video sharing network has won over a huge audience in a relatively short period of time, most notably with younger consumers. Since its launch in 2016 the company has gone on to amass over one billion users around the world.
Despite this popularity, questions have remained over whether the channel harvests data to share with the Chinese government. Whilst TikTok’s owners – ByteDance – has said such claims were based on “fundamental misconceptions”, the allegations have persisted.
In fact, though ByteDance has explicitly said it does not reveal information to the Chinese state, the country’s laws require businesses to share data as and when requested. It’s been argued that the Communist Party would be unlikely to ignore huge swathes of data from many millions of users across the Western world being kept on its doorstep.
Now, the BBC has become the UK’s first major media organisation to call on staff to delete the app from their work devices over fears of sensitive data falling into the wrong hands.
An email sent to BBC staff members read: “The decision is based on concerns raised by government authorities worldwide regarding data privacy and security.”
Surely enough, a similar ban has already been put in place on all UK government-issued phones, a move the Cabinet Office described as “prudent and proportionate”. Similar measures have also been taken in the USA, where there are thought to be more than 100 million TikTok users.
The company’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, has faced questions in Washington and was urged to offload Chinese owners or face further sanctions.
For its part the BBC has said it will continue to use TikTok to reach its audiences there, but only for editorial and marketing purposes, and just ‘for now’.
In reply, a spokesperson for TikTok said the company remains in “close dialogue” with the BBC and hopes to work with the organisation to allay any fears. They did, however, argue that a key driver of the BBC’s decision wasn’t any tangible threat, but “geopolitics”.