Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Alamy Stock Photo

TikTok lobbied Govt on security issues weeks before advice not to use app on official phones

The company addressed what it described as “heightened interest” in the app’s security.

TIKTOK SOUGHT TO brief Irish Government ministers on privacy and security issues just weeks before public servants were advised not to install the app on official devices.

Correspondence seen by The Journal reveals that the company wrote to three different ministers in February as part of efforts to reassure the Government about “policies and processes to protect [its] users and their data”.

The lobbying came just weeks before the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the State agency responsible for advising the government on cyber security threats, advised departmental staff not to use TikTok on official devices over cybersecurity concerns.

Along with the European Commission, several countries have in recent months banned public sector employees from installing the video-sharing app, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission has claimed that ByteDance could potentially share the data of TikTok users – including their browsing history and location with the Chinese government.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed last month that the government had sought advice from the NCSC after the UK announced a ban on the app on official devices.

In a letter to Tánaiste Micheál Martin on 28 February, released under the Freedom of Information Act, TikTok addressed what it described as “heightened interest” in the app “in relation to [its] privacy and security practices”.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with some information and context regarding these matters, and extend a standing invitation to you for ongoing engagement on these, or any other matters relating to TikTok in Ireland,” the company’s Vice President for Government Relations and Public Policy, Theo Bertram wrote.

“We would be pleased to offer our cooperation with any authority should queries arise on the functioning of our platform and our privacy and security measures.

“We recognise the need for scrutiny around how online platforms like ours operate, particularly when it comes to protecting our users.”

The Tánaiste was told that TikTok would like to brief him on its practices in both the US and Ireland to “ensure that the government can be confident” with the company’s policies and processes to protect its users and their data.

Bertram also said that the company had contacted Minister for Justice Simon Harris and junior minister Ossian Smyth, who has responsibility for the NCSC, to discuss the same with them.

“We are taking additional steps to further safeguard Irish user data, and would be very happy to brief you in detail on the steps were are taking, including opening data centres in Ireland this year,” he added.

It’s understood that TikTok did not meet any of the three ministers.

The Journal also sought the release under FOI of other records relating to TikTok after the European Commission ban was introduced, with a briefing for the Tánaiste refused on the grounds of State security.

Last week, NCSC director Richard Browne told RTÉ that the agency’s advice to public servants not to use the app on official phones was based on a risk “to public data held on publicly-owned devices”.

He said that while TikTok does not have “any particularly apparent cybersecurity vulnerabilities”, the app “does have extremely high permissions and gathers and stores very large amounts of user data”.

He also described the company’s ownership structure as “relatively unusual”.

“Given the nature of Chinese intelligence gathering laws, that means that TikTok and its employees are subject to Chinese law and the application of a number of different measures,” Browne said.

TikTok has insisted that the Chinese government has no control over or access to its data, though the firm acknowledged in November that some employees in China could access European user data and in December said that employees had used the data to spy on journalists.

In a high-profile hearing last month, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told a committee of US politicians that TikTok’s parent company is “not owned or controlled by the Chinese government and is a private company”.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning has also said China “has never and will not require companies or individuals to collect or provide data located in a foreign country, in a way that violates local law”.

Contains reporting by Lauren Boland and AFP.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel