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The TikTok ban: What it means for users and how to get around it

Verified by Amy Reeves

In recent months, TikTok bans have become a hot topic of discussion among governments and lawmakers out of concern over China-based ByteDance (which owns TikTok) sharing users’ private data with the Chinese government. The security worry has raised questions about how safe and secure the platform is, leading to some countries outright banning the popular social media app, with many more considering following suit. For users hoping to retain access to TikTok despite a ban, there are ways to bypass the restrictions: using a mobile VPN (virtual private network). 

TikTok, like many other social media sites, collects a certain amount of user data. There’s a fear that personal data may be shared with the Chinese government, based on China’s National Intelligence Law 2017, which has the potential to pose a threat to cybersecurity.

Why are countries banning TikTok?

The Chinese-owned video-sharing social media platform, TikTok, has faced increasing limitations and bans on a global scale in recent months. Countries have cited security risks and, in particular, expressed concerns about sensitive information being leaked once the app has been downloaded. 

As with any social media site or app, some personal information will be collected but governments and lawmakers believe that TikTok gathers more user data than others. When the TikTok app is in use, it has a large number of permissions that include being able to geolocate your device on an hourly basis and scan your hard drive – it also states that it shares this data with third-party service providers to help deliver the platform. 

TikTok automatically collects:

  • Contacts, date of birth, email and phone number
  • Location information
  • App activity, browser and search history
  • Profile information, including photos and videos
  • Device information, including keystroke patterns
  • Any images or text on your clipboard
  • Biometric data, including face and voice print

The list of countries considering or implementing the ban is ever-growing; currently, the following countries have implemented an outright or partial ban.

Country Banned status Restriction
Afghanistan Banned Taliban leadership banned the app in 2022
India Banned The Indian government permanently banned the app in 2020 due to data security concerns
Australia Partially banned In March 2023, the app was banned on government devices
Bangladesh Censored The app is censored by the government due to videos deemed as inappropriate
Belgium Temporary ban From March 2023, a six-month ban is in place on government devices due to cybersecurity concerns
Canada Partially banned The app is banned on government devices
Denmark Partially banned The Defense Ministry has banned the app on work phones
European Union (EU) Partially banned Members of the European Parliament, EU Council and European Commission are not allowed the app on their phones for cybersecurity reasons
France Partially banned Due to cybersecurity risks, TikTok is banned on government phones
Indonesia Censored Content seemed as inappropriate
Latvia Partially banned Banned on Foreign Ministry’s devices
The Netherlands Partially banned Banned from government work phones due to privacy concerns
New Zealand Partially banned Lawmakers and members of parliament are not allowed to use the app on their work phones, due to security concerns
Norway Partially banned Banned on work phones belonging to members of Parliament due to data privacy
Pakistan Censored and partially banned Has been banned four times since 2020 due to content deemed as inappropriate
Russia Censored and partially banned Partially banned to limit the spread of so-called misinformation due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Users can view only Russian content and cannot upload any content themselves
Taiwan Partially banned Public sector ban on TikTok due to security reasons
United Kingdom Partially banned The app is banned on civil servants’ devices to protect data privacy
United States Partially banned The app is banned on federal devices, but there might be a nationwide ban in the future

How to get around the TikTok ban with a mobile VPN

TikTok will still be able to gather information from your phone, even when using a VPN, if accessed through an app. (Adobe)

Countries where TikTok is banned will not be able to download the app, log in to their account or view any TikTok content.   

If TikTok is banned in your jurisdiction, it’s either due to the government removing the app from the app store for your geo-location or your Internet Service Provider (ISP) blocking the use of the TikTok app. A VPN can be a sure-fire way around the TikTok ban – a good VPN can successfully bypass any type of geo-restriction and, if they have an audited no-logs policy, you can rest assured that user data won’t be logged or shared. However, that is not to say that using a VPN to avoid the TikTok ban poses no risks, as accessing blocked content with or without a VPN carries the same negative consequences.  

It is also important to note that if accessing certain websites or social media platforms is illegal without a VPN, then, most likely, they will still be illegal to access when using a VPN.

How to choose the best VPN for TikTok

The best mobile VPN for TikTok should include a high level of encryption such as Advanced Encryption Standard with 256 bits (AES-256, used by governments themselves) and robust VPN protocols such as OpenVPN, WireGuard and IKEv2. A VPN that prioritises its user’s security will come with a no-logs policy, which means that none of your data is stored or logged – the best VPNs will also have this independently verified by one of the big four audit companies: Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG). 

Although most premium VPNs come with beneficial security features, such as a kill switch and split tunnelling, to get around the Tik Tok ban, your VPN service must be good at bypassing geo-restrictions. ExpressVPN is well-known for its ability to bypass the Great Firewall of China  – which censors domestic internet and blocks selected foreign websites – and Nord VPN‘s expansive list of security features also works well at bypassing geolocations.  

Installing a VPN app on your device

To install a VPN on any of your devices, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Choose a reputable VPN provider: This should be a service that can bypass geo-restrictions and has a good range of security features such as a kill switch and military-grade AES-256 encryption. Our extensive VPN testing and research shows ExpressVPN and NordVPN are excellent at bypassing geo-restrictions.
  2. Download the VPN: From the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, download the VPN. You can download the apps for both mobile and PC and most providers will allow for multiple simultaneous device connections. 
  3. Log in: Once downloaded, log in to your VPN with the account you created when signing up or create a new account if you are yet to do so.
  4. Turn on security features: You’ll want to turn on your VPN kill switch; this protects you if your VPN connection drops by immediately disconnecting you from the internet.

Connecting to a VPN server

To get around the TikTok ban, you’ll need to connect to a VPN server located in a country where TikTok is not banned. Although most VPNs come with a wide range of server locations, not all of them can bypass a government ban like the one imposed on TikTok in some countries.

TikTok tracks your location based on your IP address, SIM card and GPS, which is why connecting to a VPN server that changes your regions will help avoid the TikTok ban. More specifically, obfuscated servers are specialised VPN servers designed to hide that you’re using a VPN to reroute your traffic; ExpressVPN, NordVPN, Surfshark and CyberGhost all offer these types of servers. 

Potential risks and limitations

Though a VPN is designed to keep users safe and anonymous while online, some countries lack internet freedom, monitor web activity and restrict the use of VPNs – some have outright banned their usage. However, even in the most censored countries, such as China, you’re still able to download a VPN and use it – though there are not many VPNs that can bypass the Great Firewall of China. 

While a VPN can help you access TikTok, if it’s banned in your jurisdiction and if it is illegal without a VPN, then, most likely, it will still be illegal to access when using a VPN. However, in most countries, it is completely legal to use a VPN; the UK is one of these countries. In addition to this, most VPNs won’t store web sessions or log user data, which means governments looking for citizens’ internet traffic that has been routed through a VPN server won’t find much in the way of detrimental information.  

Connecting to any VPN will always affect your internet speed to some degree, but the best VPNs won’t noticeably cause video and audio lag, although some cheap VPNs or free VPNs might. It also depends on your choice of server location. Generally, connecting to a server that is geographically far away from your current location will usually affect download and upload speeds and latency – which means video lag is likely.   

While some countries have imposed a ban on TikTok, users who wish to retain access to the app can make use of a mobile VPN. Understanding the TikTok ban, as well as knowing which VPN providers have the capability of bypassing such restrictions, will mean users can continue enjoying TikTok’s content and features. However, it’s important to note that VPN usage is not legal in all countries and this poses certain risks and limitations associated with using a VPN for accessing restricted content. Users should prioritise privacy and consider the risks of using VPN services along with their local regulations.  

rachel

Rachel Sadler

Home Tech Writer

Rachel is a seasoned writer who has been producing online and print content for seven years. 

As a home tech expert for Independent Advisor, Rachel researches and writes buying guides and reviews, helping consumers navigate the realms of broadband and home security gadgets. She also covers home tech for The Federation of Master Builders, where she reviews and tests home security devices. 

She started as a news and lifestyle journalist in Hong Kong reporting on island-wide news stories, food and drink and the city’s events. She’s written for editorial platforms Sassy Hong Kong, Localiiz and Bay Media. While in Hong Kong she attended PR events, interviewed local talent and project-managed photoshoots. 

Rachel holds a BA in English Language and Creative Writing and is committed to simplifying tech jargon and producing unbiased reviews.

Amy Reeves

Editor

Amy is a seasoned writer and editor with a special interest in home design, sustainable technology and green building methods.

She has interviewed hundreds of self-builders, extenders and renovators about their journeys towards individual, well-considered homes, as well as architects and industry experts during her five years working as Assistant Editor at Homebuilding & Renovating, part of Future plc.

Amy’s work covers topics ranging from home, interior and garden design to DIY step-by-steps, planning permission and build costs, and has been published in Period Living, Real Homes, and 25 Beautiful Homes, Homes and Gardens.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Amy manages homes-related content for the site, including solar panels, combi boilers, and windows.

Her passion for saving tired and inefficient homes also extends to her own life; Amy completed a renovation of a mid-century house in 2022 and is about to embark on an energy-efficient overhaul of a 1800s cottage in Somerset.