This past week multiple government officials from all three government levels, including Alberta's provincial government, announced that the popular application TikTok, would be banned from devices of government employees.

“Effective February 28, 2023, the TikTok application will be removed from government-issued mobile devices. Users of these devices will also be blocked from downloading the application in the future. Following a review of TikTok, the Chief Information Officer of Canada determined that it presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security," the Federal government stated. 

The province followed the Federal government's suit in announcing that following a risk assessment the application would be removed and banned from desktops, laptops, and mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones. Following the province's announcement, the City of Calgary also confirmed it was going to ban Tiktok on its employees' devices.

When asked for comment, The City of Airdrie said that there are currently reviewing any corporate exposure.

“The City does not have a corporate TikTok account," wrote Shannon Schindeler, Director of Corporate Services.

While the province underlined that to date, there have been no reports of security breaches, the decision was made proactively. Alberta, isn't the only province banning applications, as Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island also have bans relating to TikTok on government employee phones. 

Federally, The President of the Treasury Board, Mona Fortier, stated that the decision to remove and block TikTok from government mobile devices is being taken as a precaution, particularly given concerns about the legal regime that governs the information collected from mobile devices. Fortier added that while the risks of using this application are clear, we have no evidence at this point that government information has been compromised.

“For the broader public, the decision to use a social media application or platform is a personal choice. However, 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.”

According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), TikTok collects personal data, which can include:

  •   Contact lists
  •  Calendar entries
  •  Device location
  •  Hard drives, including external ones

TikTok released a statement on March 1, with the press release headline reading: Mythbusting: The Facts On Reports About Our Data Collection Practices. In its release, TikTok did not directly respond to the Canadian government's announcement, but instead focused on a report by Malcore team at Internet 2.0, a joint U.S. and Australian cybersecurity organization. In its report, Malcore stated that TikTok scored the highest on its metrics when it came to data collection.

"Malcore scored TikTok 63.1. This was the highest (worst) score relative to all other applications we tested. The only score close was VK, the Russian app on 62.7. The industry standard was all other major social media applications scored 34 and below with the average score being 28.8 over 21 applications," the report stated. "TikTok got this score because it had nine trackers and a lot of permissions and code severity warnings. One of the biggest flags for us was the presence of the Russian VKontakte SDK."

Tiktok disputed this in their own press release claiming that the report's results contained a number of inaccuracies.

"We do not collect precise location information in Canada. TikTok collects approximate location information based on a device's GPS data if Location Services is actively enabled by the user," TikTok stated.

In perhaps another slightly surprising development, Tiktok made another announcement yesterday. Cormac Keenan, Head of Trust and Safety at TikTok wrote a blog post announcing that every account belonging to a user below age 18 will automatically be set to a 60-minute daily screen time limit.

"In addition to bringing these new features to Family Pairing, everyone will soon be able to set their own customized screen time limits for each day of the week and set a schedule to mute notifications. In addition, we're rolling out a sleep reminder to help people more easily plan when they want to be offline at night. People can set a time, and when it's reached, a pop-up will remind them it's time to log off," Keenan wrote.

It is estimated that over seven million Canadians use Tiktok. 

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