The Canadian federal government has banned use of Chinese Communist Party-linked social influencing video app TikTok from all government issued devices over concerns that the app’s data collection methods leave users open to cyberattacks.
Provinces followed suit to issue similar measures, joining a growing list of jurisdictions that have imposed restrictions on the use of the platform.
“Effective February 28, 2023, the TikTok application will be removed from government-issued mobile devices. Users of these devices will also be blocked from downloading the application in the future,” Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said in a statement issued on Feb. 27.
TikTok is owned by Beijing-based tech company ByteDance and has previously drawn criticism and concern over the app being used to give user data access to the Chinese government.
Despite the warnings from experts about the risks to national security, a number of federal departments have spent a total of over $2 million on advertisements on TikTok since 2020, according to government records.
Moreover, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board holds a position in ByteDance.
After examining TikTok, Chief Information Officer Catherine Luelo told the Treasury Board that the popular but controversial short-form video streaming app “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security,” according to The Globe and Mail on Feb. 28.
“On a mobile device, TikTok’s data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone,” the Treasury Board said.
“The decision to remove and block TikTok from government mobile devices is being taken as a precaution, particularly given concerns about the legal regime that governs the information collected from mobile devices, and is in line with the approach of our international partners,” she said
The ban comes on the heels of the European Commission and the European Union Council, which made a similar announcement for staff devices the week of Feb. 23, citing cybersecurity concerns.
The U.S. federal government and over 28 American states have already banned TikTok from state-owned devices. The U.S. Armed Forces have also prohibited the app on military devices.
Last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee that the agency has national security concerns about the app.
“They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose, or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.”
Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the United States are working on a bill that would make it illegal for TikTok to operate in the country.
“Allowing the app to continue to operate in the U.S. would be like allowing the U.S.S.R. to buy up The New York Times, The Washington Post, and major broadcast networks during the Cold War,” U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher said in a statement as he introduced the bipartisan legislation on Feb. 17.
Following the lead of the Trudeau administration, Provinces such as Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, have announced bans on installing and using TikTok on their devices.
CTV News said on Feb. 28 that Ontario was also looking into whether it would ban TikTok from employee devices.
Taking it seriously
The Canadian Press reported that Canadian politicians have started to delete their TikTok accounts after the ban.
The general public is still free to download and use TikTok on their own personal devices, but Fortier says the Communications Security Establishment’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security “strongly recommends that Canadians understand the risks and make an informed choice on their own before deciding what tools to use.”
During a press conference on Feb. 27, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also addressed the TikTok ban.
“I suspect that as the government takes the significant step of telling all federal employees that they can no longer use TikTok on their work phones, many Canadians, from businesses to private individuals, will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices in consequence,” he said.