BBC staff told to delete TikTok app after ban from government devices

The BBC has urged staff to delete TikTok from corporate mobile phones, days after ministers and civil servants were banned from having the Chinese-owned social media app on government-issued phones.

Guidance sent to staff at the national broadcaster on Sunday said: “We don’t recommend installing TikTok on a BBC corporate device unless there is a justified business reason. If you do not need TikTok for business reasons, TikTok should be deleted.”

Staff will still be permitted to use the app on their work phones for editorial and marketing purposes, though BBC bosses said they will issue further guidance if the situation demands.

Explaining the move, the BBC guidance said: “The decision is based on concerns raised by government authorities worldwide regarding data privacy and security.”

The move reflects a sharp turn in attitude from the BBC, which since last year has embraced TikTok as a way of reaching new audiences online.

Earlier this month Denmark’s DR became the first national broadcaster to ban TikTok from staff work devices. Staff there may use only designated TikTok phones if they need the app for research.

On Friday, the UK government banned the app on government-issued phones amid fears that sensitive data held on official phones could be accessed by the Chinese government.

Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office secretary, told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg the ban was done “on the balance of risks”.

Dowden discusses tech security on BBC on Sunday morning (PA)
Dowden discusses tech security on BBC on Sunday morning (PA)

“There is a high risk on government phones. In respect of TikTok, there is then a further risk,” he said, adding: “A lot of these social media apps hoover up a vast amount of data ... whether that’s geolocation, contacts, all these things you have on your phone.”

Despite concerns, the public should be safe to use TikTok due to the strength of UK data protection laws, according to Michelle Donelan, the science secretary.

In response to Britain’s move, TikTok, owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance, said it was “disappointed” with the decision and said bans were based on “fundamental misconceptions and driven by wider geopolitics”.

Britain has taken a cautious turn away from Chinese tech in recent years after the welcoming approach of the 2010s.

In 2020, Boris Johnson’s government began phasing out the involvement of Chinese tech giant Huawei in the UK’s 5G network, citing security concerns. The United States had earlier placed restrictions on Huawei’s access to US technology.