TikTok has been banned from government-issued mobile devices in Canada, the country’s Treasury Board announced Monday. Taking effect on February 28, this block follows similar actions taken by the European Commission and some state governments in the U.S.
The European Commission issued their directive to remove TikTok from government devices late last week. That same day, four Canadian privacy regulators announced that they would jointly investigate TikTok. Already, the chief information officer of Canada has determined that TikTok poses “an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.” Canadian officials haven’t found any evidence that government data has been compromised, so this is considered a precautionary measure.
“The decision to remove and block TikTok from government mobile devices is being taken as a precaution, particularly given concerns about the legal regime that governs the information collected from mobile devices, and is in line with the approach of our international partners,” said Treasury Board President Mona Fortier in a statement. “On a mobile device, TikTok’s data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone.”
TikTok claims that the Canadian government did not reach out to discuss concerns about the app.
“It’s curious that the Government of Canada has moved to block TikTok on government-issued devices — without citing any specific security concern or contacting us with questions — only after similar bans were introduced in the EU and the US,” a TikTok spokesperson said in an email to TechCrunch. “We are always available to meet with our government officials to discuss how we protect the privacy and security of Canadians, but singling out TikTok in this way does nothing to achieve that shared goal.”
In December, the U.S. House of Representatives banned the use of TikTok on any government devices. Some members of Congress still have TikTok accounts, presumably managed on separate devices. State governments like those in Texas, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina and more than a dozen others have enacted similar restrictions. In some cases, these bans trickle down to state-funded college campuses, where schools like the University of Texas, Auburn University and the University of Oklahoma have prohibited the use of TikTok on campus Wi-Fi or school-owned devices.
These government bodies are concerned that TikTok, owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, could be used by the Chinese government to gather sensitive information from political officials. Though TikTok repeatedly assured American consumers that their data was stored in the U.S., an investigation last year revealed that engineers in China had access to American TikTok data as recently as January 2022. TikTok then said it would move U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers stored in the United States. Another investigation, corroborated by ByteDance, found that a small group of engineers inappropriately accessed two U.S. journalists’ data; they planned to use these journalists’ location data to determine if they crossed paths with any ByteDance employees who may have leaked information to these reporters.
A TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company stores Canadian user data in the U.S. and Singapore. The platform has never provided data to the Chinese government, the spokesperson added, and would refuse if asked.
Update, 2/27/23, 6:30 PM ET with additional information from TikTok.