New Zealand bans TikTok on parliamentarians’ phones

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Days after the UK banned TikTok from government devices, New Zealand has joined the trend by banning the short video app from parliamentary devices. The move comes amid growing security concerns over TikTok owner ByteDance handing over user data to the Chinese government.

The country’s authorities cited cybersecurity reasons and said the app would be banned from any device with access to parliament’s network by the end of March. However, the authorities make an exception for people who may need the app to “fulfill their democratic duties.” They have not specified what that could mean.

Rafael Gonzalez-Montero, chief executive officer of the parliamentary service, told Reuters in an email that the government made the decision after consultations with cybersecurity experts and authorities from other countries.

“Based on this information, the agency has determined that the risks are not acceptable in the current New Zealand parliamentary environment,” he said.

“On the advice of our cybersecurity experts, the Parliamentary Service has informed Members and staff that the TikTok app will be removed from all devices with access to the Parliamentary network.”

TikTok did not immediately comment on the development.

New Zealand joins a plethora of countries that have banned TikTok from official devices. In December, the US House of Representatives banned the app from all employees’ and lawmakers’ devices. Other countries such as Canada and Belgium have also joined the fray by banning the app. Last month, the European Union also ordered its staff to remove TikTok from their devices.

Notably, India banned TikTok from the country in 2020 saying that the app threatened the “national security and defense of India”. At the time, India was the largest market for the short video app with over 200 million users.

While the ban on several government devices may worry TikTok, its China-based owner could be a looming US embargo. The Biden administration is reportedly threatening a ban unless ByteDance cuts ties with TikTok and sells the app.

TikTok has repeatedly tried to convince the US (and other) governments that China cannot access user data. It has undergone an audit by Oracle and asked the press and regulators to visit the newly built Transparency Center where they can take a look at the app’s moderation policies. The company has spent nearly $1.5 billion on the charm offensive campaign to appease authorities.

“If protecting national security is the goal, divestment does not solve the problem: A change of ownership would not impose new restrictions on data flows or access,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan told AapkaDost earlier this week. “The best way to address national security concerns is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting and verification, which we are already implementing.”

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