Canada is jumping on a ‘bandwagon’ with TikTok ban: tech expert


The Current18:31Ottawa bans TikTok on federal devices

Ottawa is jumping on the “bandwagon” by following the U.S. and EU in banning TikTok on federal employees’ devices, says one tech expert.

“I don’t understand what the new information is here, which is why I see it as kind of a frustrating, almost theatric response,” said Vass Bednar, executive director of the master of public policy in digital society program at McMaster University.

“They’re saying that there’s an unacceptable level of risk that has recently been determined by the chief information officer. I’d like to know why now,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway. 

The video-sharing app was removed and blocked on all Canadian government-issued mobile devices Tuesday, following similar actions from lawmakers in the U.S. and European Union. 

This move follows longstanding data security concerns around TikTok’s Chinese parent company, Bytedance, and whether it could be compelled to share information with China’s government. Those concerns centre around whether the app could be used to gather users’ private information, which could then be used to exploit or blackmail users.

WATCH | Government’s TikTok ban ‘overly political,’ tech expert says:

Government’s TikTok ban ‘overly political,’ tech expert says

Vass Bednar, the executive director of McMaster University’s master of public policy program, questioned the decision to remove and block TikTok from all federal government devices while not asking similar cybersecurity questions about other apps. 

In a statement Monday, President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier said that Canada’s chief information officer determined the app “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security,” but added that “we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has nearly 879,000 followers on TikTok, said he will deactivate his account by the end of the day Tuesday.

Bednar said the move comes at a “broader geopolitical moment” where leaked CSIS documents accuse China of interfering in Canada’s 2021 election, and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland recently raised national security concerns about a Toronto bank with ties to the country.

But she added that Canadians “need better information from the government to understand and appreciate how quickly the government’s moving.”

“I like to see government moving quickly on digital policy, but I don’t appreciate something that can seem empty, you know — a gesture that doesn’t have enough behind it, frankly,” she said.

Tim Hortons, you know, was too greedy with the data it was collecting. I’m pretty sure civil servants can still get a double double– Vass Bednar

She thinks cybersecurity concerns, and the tools to tackle them, should be proportionately applied to all the apps that Canadians use. 

“Our privacy commissioner found last year that Tim Hortons, you know, was too greedy with the data it was collecting. I’m pretty sure civil servants can still get a double double,” she said.

TikTok ‘disappointed’ by ban

In an email to CBC News, a TikTok spokesperson said the company was “disappointed” that Canada issued the ban “without citing any specific security concerns about TikTok or contacting us to discuss any concern prior to making this decision.”

The move will not help Ottawa and the company reach the “shared goal” of protecting “the privacy and security of Canadians,” the email added. “All it does is prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians.”

Lawmakers at the European Commission have given officials until March 15 to remove TikTok from their work devices, but Politico Europe technology reporter Clothilde Goujard said it’s still unclear what “was alarming enough for them to decide to ban it entirely.”

“They declined to provide any information about what sort of evidence they found, or any threat analysis,” she told The Current.

In the U.S., Congress is debating a bill which would ban TikTok across the country. Goujard said there’s less appetite for such a ban in the EU, where lawmakers would have to prove TikTok had “severely infringed” existing privacy legislation.

WATCH | TikTok removed from government-issued devices:

Federal government will remove TikTok from government-issued devices

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says safety and security is a priority for his government following the move to ban TikTok from phones and tablets used by government employees as of February 28.

Bednar said it’s important “to meet audiences where they are,” but there’s an incongruity between banning TikTok for public servants, while perhaps still using it to reach the public at large. 

“Should we commit to not advertising and acknowledge … that we may not be able to share some important information about tax season or a new youth employment program?” she said.

“Those are very real trade-offs that are worth acknowledging.”

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