New Zealand has joined the growing list of countries and jurisdictions that have banned TikTok from certain government devices. Unlike elsewhere, the restriction doesn't apply to all government employees. It's limited to devices that have access to New Zealand's parliamentary network, though the country's defense force and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said they've banned TikTok on work devices too.
The ban will come into force by the end of March. However, there may be exceptions for those who need access to TikTok to carry out their jobs.
Officials made the move in the wake of advice from cybersecurity experts and talks between people in the government and with other countries. "Based on this information, the Service has determined that the risks are not acceptable in the current New Zealand Parliamentary environment,” parliamentary service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero told Reuters.
Chris Hipkins, New Zealand's prime minister, shed some light on why the country limited the ban to devices linked to the parliamentary network. "Departments and agencies follow the advice of the (Government Communications Security Bureau) in terms of IT and cybersecurity policies ... we don't have a blanket across the public sector approach," he said.
Earlier this week, the UK announced an immediate TikTok ban on government devices. It said users of such devices would only be able to use third-party apps that are on an approved list. Over the last few months, the US, dozens of states, Canada and the European Commission have also banned TikTok on devices they own.
As with those other jurisdictions, New Zealand is limiting government access to TikTok due to security fears. Officials in many countries have expressed concern that TikTok's parent company ByteDance (which is based in Beijing) may be compelled to share sensitive user information, such as location data, with China for purported national security reasons.
ByteDance has said it wouldn't share user data with China, but US officials have claimed the company would legally have to comply if the government demanded the information. TikTok has tried to assuage privacy worries in the US and Europe by routing traffic from each territory to domestic servers and conducting third-party security and data audits.
TikTok's troubles don't end with bans from government devices. This week, the company said that the US told ByteDance to sell the app or TikTok could face a nationwide ban. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has argued that, were ByteDance to divest his company, that wouldn't resolve politicians' security concerns and that data protection projects the company has set up in the US and Europe "are the real solutions." A whistleblower has claimed, however, that there are flaws in the US plan that could allow China to theoretically access data of American TikTok users anyway.
Meanwhile, reports suggested this week that the FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating ByteDance after four employees used TikTok to snoop on the locations of two US journalists. ByteDance fired the four people (two of whom were based in China and the others in the US) in December and said the individuals were trying to locate the sources of leaks to the reporters.