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UK Parliament bins its TikTok account over China surveillance fears

The UK’s Parliament has ended its presence on TikTok after MPs pointed out the made-in-China social media service probably sends data about its users back to Beijing.

A UK Parliament TikTok account started posting last week, and was promoted as follows:

That is so edgy – sneaking content about boring old Parliament onto social media by offering advice about selfies!

The existence of the account saw half a dozen MPs write to the presiding officers of the Houses of Lords and Commons — Lord McFall of Alcluith and Sir Lindsay Hoyle, respectively — to ask for the account to be discontinued.

“While efforts made to engage young people in the history and functioning of parliament should always be welcomed, we cannot and should not legitimise the use of an app which has been described by tech experts as ‘essentially Chinese government spyware’,” wrote MPs Nusrat Ghani, Tim Loughton, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Tom Tugendhat, plus Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws.

The signatories pointed out that TikTok itself has talked back its own claims that data describing users outside China are never viewed inside the Middle Kingdom. The letter also points out that Chinese law allows Beijing to compel local companies to produce data – possibly even data on the UK youth who turn to TikTok for a super-hip selfies-and-civics lesson.

Lord McFall and Sir Lindsay appear to have appreciated that argument. Ghani yesterday posted the following letter to her Twitter account:

We hasten to add, with respect to the other House, that Lord sense also prevails.

The two speakers – each of whom is nominally responsible for many of the functions of the chamber they lead – displayed their deep knowledge of parliamentary accountability by blaming unnamed officials for the account’s existence.

The account’s cancelation comes just weeks after TikTok USA made Oracle Cloud its default storage destination and TikTok’s head of security resigned because his mission had been accomplished.

Those two events came before the service admitted that certain staff in China can see some data under limited circumstances. The company has been on the back foot ever since.

And so, ironically, has Meta: Mark Zuckerberg’s social media conglomerate recently told investors that TikTok is one of several factors impacting its revenue and growth prospects. Meta even paused changes to its Instagram service, after users complained the alterations would make the ‘Gram more like TikTok. ®