Why are people talking about banning TikTok in the UK?

El logo de la app de TikTok, en esta foto tomada en Tokio el 28 de septiembre de 2020. (Foto AP/Kiichiro Sato)
TikTok has long been a concern for security experts, and governments are becoming increasingly worried about its potential threat. (AP)

What's happening? A government minister has refused to rule out that TikTok could be banned in the UK due to security concerns over the Chinese-owned app.

The video sharing platform is under increasing scrutiny over fears that data collected by its owner, ByteDance, is being passed directly to Beijing. TikTok has always denied this, but a number of governments are concerned enough to ban employees from installing the app on work phones.

The UK could soon follow suit, and security minister Tom Tugendhat said we could even go one step further and order a nationwide ban.

The TikTok debate is just one example of rising tensions between Britain and China, with Beijing accusing the US, UK and Australia of going down a "dangerous road" with their new submarine pact.

Earlier this year, The i reported that a hidden Chinese tracking device had been found inside a UK government car, while Washington accused Beijing of flying spy balloons over its territory.

Yahoo News UK breaks down what's going on and how we got here.

What did Tom Tugendhat say about TikTok?

Tugendhat, who is regarded as something of a hawk in the Tory Party when it comes to China, stressed the need for apps to be "useful tools", rather than vehicles to spread "spyware".

“Looking at the various different apps that people have on their phone and the implications for them is a hugely important question,” he told Times Radio. “I’m far too attached to my phone as my wife will tell you, my kids tell me the same, and what we need to do is we need to make sure that our phones are not spyware but useful tools for us."

He said this is why he has asked the National Cyber Security Centre to look into the potential threat posed by TikTok before deciding on the “hugely important question”.

Pressed on whether this means there could be a full ban on the app, he said: “It will be addressed with the challenges we face, with the threats we face. I’m not going to give you an answer until I know what the risks are.”

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2023/03/06: Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat is seen outside the Cabinet Office in London. (Photo by Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Security minister Tom Tugendhat has refused to rule out ordering a TikTok ban. (Getty Images)

TikTok ban for government phones?

Last weekend, Rishi Sunak suggested the UK could follow the US, Canada, Belgium, the European Commission and EU parliament by banning TikTok from government phones and devices.

Speaking during a trip to the US on Monday, the prime minister said Britain is “looking at what our allies are doing” as concern spreads over the vulnerabilities created by TikTok.

He told ITV: “We want to make sure that we protect the integrity and security of sensitive information. And we will always do that and take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that happens.”

In another interview with the BBC, the PM said: "We take security of our devices seriously."

However, hours before the interviews were broadcast, Downing Street suggested no imminent changes had been planned and the PM's deputy spokesperson said: “There’s no change.”

SAN DIEGO, CA - MARCH 13: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during on Australia â United Kingdom â United States (AUKUS) Partnership meeting as U.S. President Joe Biden hosts and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia participates at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California, United States on March, 13, 2023. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak hinted at a ban on TikTok on all government devices as he visited the US. (Getty Images)

Where similar conversations are taking place

It's not just the UK. Late last month, Joe Biden's administration gave all government agency staff 30 days to wipe TikTok from all work phones and devices due to security concerns.

Congress officially banned the app from all federal government devices in December - meanwhile more than 20 states have imposed their own government bans.

Last week the White House welcomed a new bill introduced by both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate which would give the government power to ban TikTok across the board.

If passed, the Restrict Act would give the commerce secretary authority to ban foreign technology deemed a security threat.

The European Commission and EU parliament have also imposed bans for government devices, as has the Canadian and Belgian government, Denmark's defence ministry and several Australian government departments.

In 2020 India imposed a ban on TikTok, along with 58 other Chinese-owned apps, including messaging app WeChat, claiming it wanted to "to protect the data and privacy of its 1.3 billion citizens".

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) speaks as U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) looks on during a press conference to unveil legislation that would allow the Biden administration to
The White House has welcomed a bill that would give the government power to ban TikTok. (Reuters)