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