Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.
Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, banned its employees from using TikTok on their smartphones amid concerns from Western governments about the risks the platform may pose to national security.
The commission said staff would no longer be able to have the Chinese-owned app installed on corporate and personal devices, citing concerns over how it handles user data.
“This measure aims to protect the Commission against cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyber-attacks against the corporate environment of the Commission,” the Commission said in a statement published Thursday.
“The security developments of other social media platforms will also be kept under constant review,” it added.
The move highlights the more aggressive tone Europe has taken lately with regard to TikTok, which for a long time has evaded regulatory scrutiny in the bloc. Lawmakers in the U.S. voted to block the app in December and some are calling for the service to be banned nationwide.
Western officials are concerned about the potential influence of China’s government over TikTok — in particular the risk it may enable Beijing to spy on citizens. TikTok has admitted that data on its European users can be accessed by employees based in China, but denies it would ever share such information with the Chinese government.
Last month, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton warned the app may face a possible ban if it fails to comply with its incoming Digital Services Act, which this summer will impose sweeping requirements on TikTok, Twitter and several other platforms to remove illegal content, curb disinformation, and better protect minors.
“The European Commission’s suspension of TikTok on corporate devices is misguided and based on fundamental misconceptions,” Caroline Greer, head of public policy at TikTok, said on Twitter. “We have requested a meeting to set the record straight.”
“We are continuing to enhance our approach to data security — establishing three data centres in Europe to store user data locally; further reducing employee access to data; and minimising data flows outside of Europe.”
TikTok isn’t yet a behemoth at the scale of companies like Meta, Alphabet and Amazon when it comes to social media, advertising and e-commerce. But its rise in the region shouldn’t be underestimated. The platform now has 150 million users in Europe, according to a company statement last week.
TikTok, which employs 5,000 people in Europe, has sought to allay regulators’ concerns by outlining plans to migrate European users’ information to data centers in development in Ireland. Last week, the firm announced it would open a third data center in the country.