By Ismail Shakil
OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada on Monday announced a ban on Chinese-owned social media app TikTok from government-issued devices, saying it presents an “unacceptable” level of risk to privacy and security, adding to the growing rift between the two countries.
The move underscores the growing lobby against TikTok, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance Ltd, over concerns of its proximity to Beijing and hold over user data across the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that his government was looking carefully at how to ensure Canadians’ online safety.
“This may be a first step, it may be the only step we need to take,” he said referring to the action against TikTok.
As government bans TikTok on work phones, “many Canadians, businesses and private individuals will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices in consequence,” he said.
The ban would go into effect from Tuesday and federal employees would also be blocked from downloading the application in the future, according to a statement from Canada’s Treasury Board, which oversees the public administration.
TikTok’s data collection methods provide considerable access to the contents of the phone, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said in the statement.
“While the risks of using this application are clear, we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised,” she said.
TikTok initially said it was disappointed by the decision, but later issued another statement to note that it was “curious” that Canada moved to block the app only after similar bans in the European Union and the United States.
The ban was issued “without citing any specific security concern or contacting us with questions,” a TikTok spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The European Commission imposed a similar ban last week, while the U.S. Senate in December passed a bill to bar federal employees from using the app on government-owned devices. India banned TikTok in 2020.
Canada’s action presents another potential thorn in Sino-Canadian relations which have been tense in recent years for various reasons, most recently over accusations by Ottawa that China has tried to influence its elections and that it has been running air and maritime surveillance activities.
Beijing denies those allegations and has urged Ottawa to stop what it has described as unwarranted speculation and smearing.
Ottawa has also previously excluded Chinese firms from Canada’s critical minerals and telecommunication sectors, citing risks to its national security.
In November, it ordered three Chinese companies divest their investments in Canadian critical minerals and before that it banned the use of 5G gear made by Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s and ZTE Corp.
Last week, Canada’s federal and three provincial privacy regulators said they were jointly investigating TikTok over concerns about the platform’s collection, use and disclosure of personal information.
The Treasury Board said in its statement that the decision to use a social media application or platform is a personal choice.
“The Communications Security Establishment’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (Cyber Centre) guidance strongly recommends that Canadians understand the risks and make an informed choice on their own before deciding what tools to use.”
(Reporting Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Yuvraj Malik in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel, Deepa Babington and Marguerita Choy)