TikTok banned on all Canadian government devices over ‘unacceptable’ risk

Click to play video: 'TikTok banned on all Canadian government devices for ‘safety and security’: Trudeau'
TikTok banned on all Canadian government devices for ‘safety and security’: Trudeau
WATCH: TikTok banned on all Canadian government devices for ‘safety and security’: Trudeau – Feb 27, 2023

The Canadian government is banning the use of the popular short-form video application TikTok on all government-issued mobile devices, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier announced on Monday.

Effective Tuesday, TikTok “will be removed from government-issued mobile devices,” Fortier said in a statement.

“Following a review of TikTok, the Chief Information Officer of Canada determined that it presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security,” she added.

“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.”

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TikTok’s data collection methods on mobile devices provide “considerable access” to the contents of the phone, Fortier explained.

“While the risks of using this application are clear, we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised,” she added.

When pressed on the announcement during a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is “looking carefully at how to ensure Canadians are kept safe online.”

“We’re making the decision for government employees, for government equipment, it is better to not have them access TikTok because of the concerns that people have in terms of safety,” Trudeau said.

“This may be a first step. It may be the only step we need to take.”

Canadians, meanwhile, can continue to make a “personal choice” when it comes to whether to use the application, both Fortier and Trudeau said.

“I suspect that as government takes the significant step of telling all employees that they can no longer use TikTok on their 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,” the prime minister said.

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“But I’m always a fan of giving Canadians the information for them to make the right decisions for them.”

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Click to play video: 'Tech Talk: Canada’s privacy watchdogs investigates TikTok'
Tech Talk: Canada’s privacy watchdogs investigates TikTok

The announcement comes just days after the European Commission announced an outright ban on the use of the application on its work phones Thursday morning — including personal devices that are enrolled in the commission’s “mobile device service.”

The app has also been banned in India, and the United States is currently considering legislation to ban TikTok amid fears it could be used to spy on Americans and censor content.

Congress also recently banned TikTok from most U.S. government-issued devices over bipartisan concerns about security, and the U.S. armed forces also have prohibited the app on military devices.

The concerns clouding the social media platform stem from TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance.

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The company has faced criticism from those who warn that China’s government could access user data, such as browsing history and location — thanks to a Chinese law that requires private companies to cooperate with Beijing if asked.

In a statement sent to Global News on Monday, a spokesperson for TikTok questioned the timing of the government’s announcement.

“It’s curious that the Government of Canada has moved to block TikTok on government-issued devices—without citing any specific security concern or contacting us with questions—only after similar bans were introduced in the EU and the US,” the spokesperson said.

“We are always available to meet with our government officials to discuss how we protect the privacy and security of Canadians, but singling out TikTok in this way does nothing to achieve that shared goal. All it does is prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians.”

TikTok under investigation in Canada

Canada’s federal privacy watchdog also announced on Thursday that it is launching a joint investigation into TikTok with three provincial counterparts.

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The investigation, the privacy commissioner’s office said, will dig into whether TikTok’s practices are “in compliance” with Canadian privacy legislation and whether “meaningful consent is being obtained for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information.”

Of particular concern to the watchdogs is the privacy of the younger Canadians, who dominate the use of the application in the country.

Click to play video: 'TikTok’s algorithm aggressively pushes harmful content to teens, study finds'
TikTok’s algorithm aggressively pushes harmful content to teens, study finds

A survey conducted by Toronto Metropolitan University’s Social Media Lab, released in September, found that just 26 per cent of all Canadians currently use TikTok. However, 76 per cent of those aged 18-24 have an account on the platform, it revealed.

Canadian MPs are also set to probe security concerns about the popular social media application at a parliamentary committee.

The House of Commons ethics committee voted earlier this month to undertake a study into TikTok and other social media platforms’ use “of private information of Canadians for the objective of data harvesting.”

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TikTok was the most-downloaded application in 2022, according to Forbes.

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