The chairman of UK Parliament's Defence Committee has suggested making popular app TikTok subject to Huawei-style code reviews by GCHQ, if its reported move to a new London HQ comes true.
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, made the suggestion on Twitter after The Sun newspaper broke the news this morning that video-making app TikTok might shift from China to London in the wake of a potential Microsoft-led buyout of US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand ops.
Calls to simply ban TIKTOK are shortsighted - we are losing this tech Cold War.— Tobias Ellwood MP (@Tobias_Ellwood) August 3, 2020
Let’s 1stly pursue a strategy to encourage tech co’s with Chinese links (operating in the West) to BREAK AWAY from China & follow our transparency laws- subject, of course, to full GCHQ cyber scrutiny pic.twitter.com/w3qhrhEVzI
Ellwood's suggestion of "GCHQ cyber scrutiny" echoes the security arrangements allowing Huawei to sell its carrier-grade mobile network equipment in the UK. Eavesdropping agency GCHQ, through its public-facing National Cyber Security Centre offshoot (NCSC), oversees the security of Huawei's firmware through a joint venture called the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC), also known as The Cell.
The firmware is inspected for evidence of espionage backdoors, or code vulnerabilities that could be used as backdoors, in order to soothe public concerns over Chinese state espionage being conducted through Huawei – a mission HCSEC will no longer conduct once Huawei is stripped out of UK mobile networks towards the end of this decade.
TikTok, which has reportedly been downloaded more than two billion times, is at the centre of controversy over its Chinese ownership for broadly similar reasons to American dislike of Huawei. Trump threatened to ban it in the US over national security concerns, though former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (remember him?) told CNBC earlier today that he supported any potential takeover move.
Huawei was recently given its marching orders from the UK, prompting an outburst from China's ambassador Liu Xiaoming threatening to pull the company out of Britain altogether. While HCSEC may be killed off as a result, the precedent its existence set is useful to those wishing to take a soft and pragmatic line to Chinese-owned tech products and services. ®