The BBC has urged its staff to remove the Chinese social media app TikTok from corporate mobile phones.
The BBC staff guide 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 removed.”
The move comes after the UK government banned the app on government-issued phones amid fears the Chinese government will access sensitive data, due to it being owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance.
Explaining the move, the BBC guide said: “The decision is based on concerns raised by government authorities around the world regarding privacy and data security.” The BBC asked employees who have TikTok on their personal phones, but who also use those devices for work purposes, to contact the organization’s information security team to discuss “the type of BBC information with which they are working on.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC takes the security of our systems, data and people very seriously. We constantly review activity on third-party platforms, including TikTok, and will continue to do so.”
The corporation said that use of TikTok on the BBC’s corporate devices, which the organization bought and paid for, was still permitted for editorial and marketing purposes. But the spokesman said the BBC would 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 running for over a year and he has recruited a team of four TikTok specialists.
Earlier this month, the DR of Denmark became the first national broadcaster to ban TikTok on staff work devices. It has gone further than the BBC in requiring staff to only use designated TikTok phones if they need the app for research purposes.
On Friday, the Cabinet Office said the government’s decision to ban TikTok on government phones was a “prudent and proportionate step,” after China criticized the move. The government said the ban does not extend to the personal devices of government employees, 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 the way this data may be used.” .
TikTok says it doesn’t share data with China, but the country’s intelligence law requires companies to help the Communist Party when asked. Critics fear that this policy could expose the 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 on the app, 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 “based on their political motive rather than the 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 failed to convince the US government, which significantly increased pressure on TikTok last 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 CEO Shou Zi Chew will be questioned by lawmakers in Washington DC on Thursday. Referring to the demand for sale last week, he said: “So far I haven’t heard anything that can’t be resolved with this.”
TikTok has more than 1 billion users worldwide, including more than 100 million in the US. Previous attempts by the Trump administration to ban TikTok in the US and have the company sell stakes to US companies they failed before the legal objections presented by the company.
TikTok said: “We are disappointed with the guidance the BBC has shared, but welcome the fact that TikTok can still be used for part of editorial, marketing and reporting purposes. The BBC has a strong presence on our platform, with multiple accounts, from news to music, reaching out to our engaged community both in the UK and around the world.
“We believe these bans have been based on fundamental misconceptions and are driven by broader geopolitics. We remain in close dialogue with the BBC and are committed to working with them to address any concerns they have.”