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European Commission bans staff from using TikTok on work devices over data concerns

By | Published on Friday 24 February 2023


The political pressure continues to build on TikTok with the European Commission and Council of the European Union yesterday banning their staff from using the video sharing app on their work devices.

Concerns have been raised by politicians in multiple countries about what access the Chinese government may or may not have to TikTok user-data via the app’s China-based owner Bytedance.

In America, those concerns – coupled with other geopolitical tensions between the US and China – led to former President Donald Trump banning use of the app within the country. Though that ban was challenged in the courts, meaning it never went into effect before it was formally dropped by Joe Biden.

But the concerns over what happens to TikTok user data continue to build in the US political community, with both Republicans and Democrats calling for more regulation of the app, or for it to be removed from the Apple and Google app stores, or for an outright ban to be implemented like that proposed by Trump.

Earlier this month two US senators – Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Republican Jerry Moran – wrote to the Committee On Foreign Investment In The United States, which has been investigating all the concerns around TikTok, urging it to urgently complete that investigation and at the very least enforce rules that distance TikTok in the US from its Chinese owners.

Concurrent to all that, restrictions on the use of TikTok on government devices have also been put in place in the US at both a federal and state level.

Although plenty of similar concerns about TikTok data have been expressed in Europe, to date less tangible action has been taken. Until yesterday when the European Commission told its 32,000 staff that they must remove the TikTok app from any work device or any personal device that contains Commission apps.

According to Politico, Commission employees were alerted to the new rule by email yesterday. That email stated: “To protect Commission’s data and increase its cybersecurity, the EC Corporate Management Board has decided to suspend the TikTok application on corporate devices and personal devices enrolled in the Commission mobile device service”.

The Council of the EU, which employees about 3100 people, then alerted its staff that it was implementing a similar TikTok ban. The European Parliament – the other big institution of the EU – is reportedly now considering whether to follow the lead of the Commission and Council.

For its part, TikTok continues to deny that there are any issues regarding user-data on its platform. Just last week it provided information on how it is complying with existing and new European laws around harmful content and user-data.

Responding to yesterday’s announcements by the Commission and Council, a spokesperson told Politico: “We are disappointed with this decision, which we believe to be misguided and based on fundamental misconceptions. We have contacted the Commission to set the record straight and explain how we protect the data of the 125 million people across the EU who come to TikTok every month”.

“We are surprised that the Commission did not contact us directly nor offer any explanation”, they went on, before adding: “We have requested a meeting”.