After postal worker Nathan Evans, from Airdrie, recorded an unaccompanied version of the catchy sea shanty, Wellerman, he soon discovered he had been joined by a host of singers and musicians, who turned his simple song into not just one international production, but a myriad of them, with TikTok’s app allowing people to easily lay their own sound and video over his.
As a result, Evans found himself with a recording contract and a chart-topping hit. But it was much more than that. It was a prime example of how the technological revolution has helped to bring together people from all over the world.
However, as former UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and others have learned to their cost, this new-found ease of communication brings potential problems – such as the leaking of more than 100,000 of Hancock’s WhatsApp messages. Given that information is power, this is something that governments and their intelligence agencies are well aware of and eager to exploit.
So the UK Government’s decision to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok app from phones and other devices issued to ministers and civil servants over fears it could be used for intelligence gathering by the Beijing regime is a sensible one. Labour welcomed it, only criticising ministers for acting too slowly.
When TikTok can produce something as truly beautiful as Wellerman, it is a crying shame that such a move is necessary; but when the level of cyberattacks emanating from China is considered, along with Beijing’s support for Vladimir Putin as he wages war on Ukraine and its increasingly bellicose language towards Taiwan, there are clear reasons why a considerable degree of caution is required over any kind of Chinese tech. Even if Chinese companies have no malicious intent, they are unlikely to be able to resist demands for information from their dictatorial government.
Ministers will still be able to use TikTok on their personal smartphones, so this is not a total ban. But it is, quite clearly, another sign that the democratic world is turning away from China as a direct consequence of the increasingly hostile stance taken by its rulers, a trend that anyone with business dealings in that country would do well to closely monitor.