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The Ontario government is immediately banning social media platform TikTok on all government-issued devices and on the personal mobile devices of the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus.

Ontario Treasury Board president Prabmeet Sarkaria called the move a “pro-active and precautionary approach” to protecting government data and networks. Ottawa removed the Chinese-owned social media app from all federal government-issued mobile devices on Feb. 28 in response to privacy and security concerns.

All the provinces have since followed suit, with Ontario the last to announce its decision. The Ontario government will also immediately remove its advertising campaigns from the platform.

“The decision to block the TikTok application from government-issued and personal devices is a pro-active and precautionary approach to ensuring the protection of government data and networks. While no data breaches have occurred, our government takes all allegations and concerns about data integrity incredibly seriously,” Mr. Sarkaria said in a statement.

“The government encourages Ontarians to review the terms and conditions of any application they use to ensure they are making an informed decision about how those tools use information.”

The Chinese government has a stake in TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, and Chinese laws allow the country to demand access to user data. The company that owns TikTok maintains it does not share data with China’s government and its data is not held in that country.

After a federal review of TikTok, the chief information officer of Canada last week decided the app “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security,” federal Treasury Board president Mona Fortier said. The popular app is used for making and posting short videos, which are often accompanied by catchy music and focused on trends, including dances and pranks.

Ms. Fortier said the decision to remove and block TikTok was made because of concerns about “the legal regime that governs the information collected from mobile devices,” adding that, “TikTok’s data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone.” She did say, however, that the government has no evidence that its information has been compromised.

The change brought Canada in line with the approach taken by international partners, Ms. Fortier said. The European Commission said recently that it had, for security reasons, temporarily banned employees from having the app on official mobile phones.

A coalition of Canadian privacy protection authorities, including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, recently announced it is investigating TikTok. That investigation will determine whether TikTok’s practices are in compliance with Canada’s privacy laws. Earlier this year, a House of Commons committee agreed to begin a study of how social media platforms are using Canadians’ personal data for “data harvesting and unethical/illicit sharing of personal information with foreign entities.” That examination will include a look at TikTok.

TikTok has also been under intense scrutiny in the United States. The U.S. government approved a ban on official federal government devices late last year, and, according to the Associated Press, more than half of U.S. states have also done the same. According to NPR, the FBI has expressed concern that the Chinese government could use the app to control users’ devices, or conduct influence campaigns.

TikTok spokesperson Danielle Morgan said Wednesday the platform is disappointed and is available to meet with government officials.

“It’s disappointing to see that the Ontario government has taken such an extreme approach to following the baseless trend of blocking TikTok on not only government-issued devices, but also caucus members’ personal devices, without citing any specific security concerns,” she said.

“All it does is prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians. We continue to be ready and available to meet with our government officials to discuss how we prioritize, protect and uphold the privacy and security of Canadians.”

Covert Chinese influence on Canadian affairs is of increasing concern to policy-makers. Recent reporting by The Globe and Mail has revealed China’s efforts to influence the federal elections in 2019 and 2021.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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