LONDON, United Kingdom—The head of an influential parliamentary committee in Britain on Sunday advised people not to use the Chinese social media app TikTok because of data security concerns.
“There is a reason why China has this app…,” Conservative deputy Alicia Kearns, who chairs parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told Sky News television.
“Our data is a key vulnerability and China is building a tech-totalitarian state on the back of our data. So we have to get far more serious about protecting ourselves.”
Kearns referred in passing to the recent incident in which the US shot down a Chinese balloon off its Atlantic coast. China has denied US allegations that it was being used for espionage purposes.
Kearns said the bigger concern was “data penetration” via Chinese companies and the way Beijing was using that data to intimidate “those who sought refuge in the UK and around the world.”
Asked if she was saying people should delete TikTok from their phones, she answered: “Without question… It is not worth having that vulnerability on your phone.”
Kearns has been a long-term critic of China’s intelligence activities and what she says is its abuse of technology to that end.
A spokesman for TikTok responded to Kearns’s allegations on Sunday.
“TikTok is enjoyed by millions of people across the UK, and we want to be clear that they can trust us with their data.
“We’re taking steps like storing UK user data in our data center operations in Ireland, starting this year; further reducing employee access to data; and minimizing data flows outside of Europe.”
Relations between London and Beijing have been tense for a number of years.
Points of contention have included China’s crackdown in the former British colony of Hong Kong, and Britain’s refusal to grant the Chinese company Huawei access to its 5G network because of security concerns.
Last October, a British-based Hong Kong pro-democracy activist accused Chinese diplomats of assaulting him during a protest outside China’s consulate in Manchester, northern England.
During the ensuing diplomatic row, six Chinese envoys left Britain and returned to China. Kearns at the time accused them of having “fled the UK like cowards, making clear their guilt.”