On Feb. 27, Ottawa announced it is banning TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices in response to privacy and security concerns. The federal government said it will also block the Chinese-owned social media app from being downloaded on official devices in the future.
The new rule, effective Feb. 28, follows the app’s intense scrutiny in the United States and also concerns of covert Chinese influence on Canadian affairs.
What could the TikTok ban mean for regular Canadians? Have similar bans been enforced in other places? Here’s what we know so far.
Why was TikTok banned on Canadian government devices?
The decision to ban TikTok was reached following a review by Chief Information Officer of Canada Catherine Luelo, who decided the app “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.”
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said Canada’s 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.”
The ban has been implemented amid increasing cybersecurity concerns surrounding TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, and also heightened geopolitical tensions with China. The U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon in early February after the unidentified flying object entered both American and Canadian airspace.
Meanwhile, a recent Globe and Mail report has revealed potential Chinese interference in the past two Canadian federal elections. There have been calls for a public inquiry into the matter, including from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
A new report, however, has determined that foreign interference did not affect outcome of 2021 election.
A coalition of Canadian privacy protection authorities announced it is investigating TikTok, following class-action lawsuits over the app’s privacy practices. That investigation will determine whether TikTok’s practices are in compliance with Canada’s privacy laws.
Which provinces have adopted a similar TikTok ban?
All provinces are following the federal move to ban the use of Tiktok on government-issued mobile devices.
Quebec was the first province to follow the federal government’s ban. But Eric Caire, the province’s cybersecurity and digital technology minister, said the use of social media apps by government employees on their own devices, outside of their work, remains a personal choice.
In Nova Scotia, the provincial government issued a statement saying TikTok’s data collection methods provide substantial access to data on mobile devices, making users “vulnerable to surveillance.” Meanwhile, Manitoba says the ban will take effect on March 6.
On March 9, Ontario said it is banning the social media app on government-owned devices and on the personal devices of Progressive Conservative Party caucus members. Ontario was the last province to announce its decision.
Have any Canadian cities implemented a ban?
The City of Toronto said on March 10 it is removing and banning the app from roughly 350 city-issued devices.
Could a wider TikTok ban be implemented?
Potentially. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked on Feb. 27 why a wider ban of the app isn’t being implemented. He told reporters that Canadians’ freedom of expression and how they want to engage online is important – and should be respected.
“This may be a first step, it may be the only step we need to take, but every step of the way we’re going to be making sure we’re keeping Canadians safe,” he said.
Should I delete TikTok? What to know about the app’s data harvesting
However, he did say the ban would likely have an impact beyond the government.
“I suspect that as government takes the significant step of telling all federal employees that they can no longer use TikTok on their work phones, many Canadians – from businesses to private individuals – will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices in consequence.”
What will MPs with TikTok accounts do?
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and Mr. Singh have announced that they are hitting pause on their TikTok accounts.
Mr. Poilievre, who had more than 230,000 followers, suspended his own account on Feb. 27. The federal Conservatives have also said all caucus members will suspend their TikTok accounts, according to the Canadian Press.
Mr. Singh, who has more than 878,000 followers and has become the country’s most popular politician on the app, said he will pause his account while he “evaluates the privacy risks.”
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier’s office says all Liberal MPs have also been asked to suspend their TikTok accounts and remove the app from both their work and personal devices.
Among those federal politicians with accounts are cabinet ministers Gudie Hutchings and Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Conservative MPs Scott Aitchison and Melissa Lantsman, NDP MP Matthew Green, and senators Kim Pate and Bernadette Clement. Many of these accounts had been suspended as of Feb. 28.
What’s the response been from TikTok?
TikTok spokesperson Danielle Morgan told The Globe and Mail that the federal government was “singling” out the social media company.
“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 U.S.,” she said in a statement.
The government’s decision will only serve to “prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians,” Ms. Morgan said.
Which other countries or jurisdictions have implemented TikTok bans?
The TikTok ban brings Canada in line with the approach taken by international partners.
In February, the European Commission and the EU Council have banned employees from having the app on official mobile phones – for security reasons. Employees of the European Commission were also told that they must remove TikTok from their personal devices if they have any work-related apps installed, according to a Politico report. A few days later, the European Parliament also decided to ban TikTok from staff phones.
In March, the U.K. joined in on the decision to ban TikTok from all parliamentary and government devices, citing the need for cybersecurity.
Washington 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. The White House said Tuesday that it is giving all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices.
The platform has also been banned from all U.S. House of Representatives-managed devices, according to the House’s administration arm. Former president Donald Trump had previously invoked executive orders to ban TikTok in 2020, but President Joe Biden then signed an executive order revoking the Trump administration ban in 2021.
After a military clash between Indian and Chinese troops in 2020, TikTok was banned completely in India. The app is also blocked in Afghanistan.
With reports from Marsha McLeod, Reuters and the Canadian Press.
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