TikTok

UK MPs ‘deeply concerned’ about TikTok’s links to Chinese government

UK MPs 'deeply concerned' about TikTok's links to Chinese government

Lucy Harley-McKeown

·3 min read
 
 
TikTok logo on phone against Chinese flag. Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty
 
TikTok logo on phone against Chinese flag. Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty

A new report from UK MPs has raised concerns about the potential information sharing between TikTok UK and its parent company ByteDance, which could be subject to China’s National Intelligence Law.

A report from parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, released on Wednesday, raised concerns about the alleged censorship of content critical of the Chinese government on the video-sharing platform.

The issues were raised within a paper on Uyghur forced labour in Xinjiang and its impact on UK value chains.

READ MORE: TikTok Prompts EU Watchdog’s Warning on Data Being Sent to China

In written evidence to the committee, TikTok UK stated it does not operate in China and does not censor content critical of China or content related to Uyghurs. MPs said they remained “deeply concerned” about the possibility of information flow between the UK and Chinese subsidiaries.

The BEIS Committee said that it “invites TikTok to publish independently verified governance and data flow arrangements to confirm full legal separation between TikTok UK and other ByteDance Ltd group companies.” The UK government has been invited to TikTok’s offices to review the company’s algorithm.

A TikTok spokesperson told Yahoo Finance: “As we made clear to the committee in both our written response and appearance, the TikTok app is not available in China, TikTok user data is held on secure servers in the US and Singapore and we have strict access controls in order to protect user data.

“We have also invested heavily in our Dublin-based European data protection and privacy teams to ensure we are meeting our data protection obligations.”

READ MORE: ‘Compelling evidence’ of Chinese forced labour links with UK companies

Security concerns surrounding data sharing and TikTok have been an issue for global governments and the company for some time now. In September last year, then US president Donald Trump announced plans to officially block new downloads of TikTok in the US, citing national security concerns.

This led to talks of a selloff of its US division and a bidding war between Microsoft and Oracle, which has reportedly since been shelved.

In February this year, new president Joe Biden paused legal action against TikTok and fellow Chinese app WeChat. The new administration has asked for an “abeyance” — or suspension — of proceedings while it revisits whether the apps really pose a threat.

TikTok and WeChat both collect data on things like where users are and mobile browsing history. The Commerce Department originally said it was concerned this information would be shared with the Chinese government, given the close links between the state and industry in China.

The EU has also expressed concerns in recent weeks. According to a report from Bloomberg, the main data-protection watchdog in the EU warned that the app may be sending some EU user data to China.

“TikTok tells us that EU data is transferred to the U.S. and not to China, however we have understood that there is possibility that maintenance and AI engineers in China may be accessing data,” Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon said.

WATCH: Beijing denies Uyghur genocide claims. Hear report’s author react

TikTok Prompts EU Watchdog’s Warning on Data Being Sent to China

TikTok Prompts EU Watchdog’s Warning on Data Being Sent to China

 
Stephanie Bodoni
·1 min read

TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, may be sending some European Union user data to China, its main data-protection watchdog in the EU warned.

 

“TikTok tells us that EU data is transferred to the U.S. and not to China, however we have understood that there is possibility that maintenance and AI engineers in China may be accessing data,” Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon said at an online event Wednesday.

ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok is facing scrutiny in the EU over how it handles children’s personal information. The Irish regulator in December became the lead EU data protection authority for TikTok.

 

The authority has dozens of other privacy probes open into Facebook Inc. and other Silicon Valley tech giants, who have all set up an EU hub in Ireland.

TikTok didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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Lawmakers blasted the UK government for sharing ‘confidential’ information in private messages to TikTok execs

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Boris Johnson Edward Lister
Boris Johnson’s (left) senior aide Sir Edward Lister (right) was among those receiving the messages with TikTok 
Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images
  • British politicians reacted to Insider revealing the UK government told TikTok the ‘confidential’ identity of its next China ambassador.
  • One says Downing Street faces ‘serious questions’ on the tranche of messages, obtained under Freedom of Information laws.
  • They also showed the government trying to reassure TikTok over new national security powers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The UK government has “serious questions” to answer, lawmakers have said after Insider revealed it told TikTok the confidential identity of its next China ambassador before the appointment was confirmed.

Insider published internal conversations between TikTok and senior government officials from January to June 2020, when the video app was reportedly negotiating to base its global headquarters in London.

The conversations took place even as TikTok was the subject of national security concerns in the US due to its ties to China.

Officials from the government’s trade department tried to reassure TikTok over wider plans to boost government powers to police foreign investments into the UK, the messages show.

The Department for International Trade (DfiT) also revealed, then asked TikTok to be “discreet” about, the news Caroline Wilson was likely the UK’s next ambassador to China, before the appointment was confirmed and four months before it was announced.  

Read the UK government correspondence with TikTok exclusively obtained by Insider

Politicians blasted the government for the revelations.

Labour MP Chris Elmore, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on social media, said the messages “leave a trail right to the Prime Minister’s own office.” Recipients on the messages included senior Downing Street officials such as Sir Edward Lister, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief strategic advisor.

Elmore added: “There are now serious questions that need to be answered by the UK government … We must all be concerned that strictly confidential information of national importance is being willingly shared with social media companies.

“We need to know what direction the Prime Minister gave to his staff to provide this information with TikTok, when did he first learn about this email exchange and what other sensitive information may have been shared from his office.”

“It is utterly contemptible to find ourselves yet again in the position where social media companies are operating in cosy back rooms to gain influence at the very heart of government.”

Andrew Lewer, a member of the China Research Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs launched by senior Tories last year to shape policy on China, was surprised by how the government acted.

He added attitudes to China have changed since the messages were sent last June. Conservative lawmakersare increasingly concerned about the UK’s trading relationship with China, particularly in light of atrocities against its Uighur minority population.

 

Insider originally requested the documents under Freedom of Information laws in July. 

“Reports of the contents of these documents serve to show how quickly sentiment within both government and the Parliamentary Party is hardening towards China,” Lever said, speaking personally rather than for the CRG.

“Some elements of these conversations, as reported, would be, at the very least, difficult to envisage happening now, even though it is less than a year later. They also illustrate the growing tension between China as a market for UK plc and its status as a human-rights abuser on a vast scale.”

Luke de Pulford, coordinator of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of lawmakers whose members include former UK Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith and former US presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio, was also worried.

 

He decried “the so-called ‘Golden Era'” of British-Chinese relations under past governments when “the UK sold out to China, shelving our values in the hope of economic gain.”

“Many key civil servants have yet to smell the coffee,” he said. “There cannot be business as usual or behind closed doors deals with states credibly accused of genocide.”

Fears of TikTok’s ties to China stem from the fact its parent company ByteDance, though registered in the Cayman Islands, is headquartered in Beijing. Lawmakers worry that the firm could be compelled to hand over information about users to the Chinese regime.

TikTok has repeatedly denied it would share user data with the Chinese Government if asked.

 

TikTok declined to comment and DfIT did not respond.