A UK Parliament account on Chinese-owned social video app TikTok has been shut down just six days after it was launched, following an outcry among senior Tory MPs.
The MPs had alleged that TikTok would be obliged to hand “personal data on our children’s phones” over to the Chinese government if requested. TikTok has denied this.
Soon after the account was created last week, MPs Tom Tugendhat, Iain Duncan Smith and Nus Ghani wrote a letter to the speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords calling for it to be deleted.
The group wrote that under China’s National Intelligence Law, Chinese companies are required to yield data to government authorities on request, which could include data on the UK Parliament account.
“The prospect of Xi Jinping’s government having access to personal data on our children’s phones ought to be a cause for major concern,” the MPs wrote in their letter. They urged Parliament to remove the account until “credible assurances can be given that no data whatsoever can be transferred to China”.
The MPs wrote that they were “surprised and disappointed” with Parliament’s decision to create a TikTok account.
The speakers complied with the request earlier today. “This account was an attempt to engage with younger audiences – who are not always active on our existing social media platforms,” they wrote in response to the MPs’ letter. “However, in light of your feedback and concerns expressed to us, we have decided that the account should be closed with immediate effect.”
A spokesperson for the UK parliament added in a statement: “Based on member feedback, we are closing the pilot UK parliament TikTok account earlier than we had planned. The account was a pilot initiative while we tested the platform as a way of reaching younger audiences with relevant content about parliament.”
Ghani thanked the speakers on Twitter for “standing up for our values and protecting our data. Common sense prevails.”
“This may seem like a small step, but it’s extraordinary for Parliament to shut down its TikTok account with immediate effect,” he added, promising to subject TikTok to fresh scrutiny through the House of Commons business select committee.
Tugendhat, Ghani and Duncan-Smith were among a number of British politicians sanctioned by China last year, with Beijing officials claiming they had “maliciously spread lies and disinformation” about human rights abuses in the country.
TikTok denies it shares data with China
TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has consistently said data from British and other Western users is stored on servers in the US and Singapore, with minimal access available to China-based employees working at the head office. The company says it has never handed over data to the Chinese government.
Earlier this month, TikTok’s Europe vice president for government relations Theo Bertram, wrote to MPs insisting that the company had “never been asked to provide TikTok user data to the Chinese government,” adding “nor would we if asked”.
During a previous appearance before MPs, Bertram admitted that there is some limited access to UK user data by ByteDance employees in China but that it is controlled and limited to engineers.
However, data obtained by BuzzFeed earlier this year seemed to contradict these claims, suggesting that TikTok user data is routinely accessed by employees in China including non-public data on birthdays and phone numbers.
Many other UK institutions hold TikTok accounts, including 10 Downing Street, which has more than 290,000 followers.
When asked about the future of TikTok under her premiership during a BBC News debate, Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss said: “We absolutely should be cracking down on those types of companies, and we should be limiting the amount of technology exports we do to authoritarian regimes.”
Rishi Sunak said during the same debate he has “helped to pass legislation that can block investment in the UK economy from countries and companies inconsistent with our values or interests.”