The European Commission bans TikTok on staff devices

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  • By Shiona McCallum
  • Technology reporter

Staff working at the European Commission have been ordered to remove the TikTok app from their phones and company devices.

The commission said it implemented the measure to “protect data and increase cyber security”.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has faced allegations that it harvests users’ data and hands it over to the Chinese government.

TikTok insists it works no differently than other social media.

EU spokeswoman Sonya Gospodinova said the board of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, had made the decision for security reasons.

“The measure aims to protect the Commission from cyber security threats and actions that can be exploited for cyber attacks against the Commission’s business environment,” she said.

The ban also means that EU Commission staff cannot use TikTok on personal devices that have official apps installed.

The commission says it has about 32,000 permanent and contract employees.

They must remove the app as soon as possible and no later than March 15.

For those who do not meet the deadline, the company’s apps – such as the commission email and Skype for Business – will no longer be available.

TikTok said the commission’s decision was based on mistaken ideas about its platform.

“We are disappointed by this decision, which we believe is misleading and based on fundamental misunderstandings,” a spokesman said.

Last year, TikTok admitted that some employees in China can access data from European users.

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has faced increasing Western scrutiny in recent months over fears about how much access Beijing has to user data.

The US government banned TikTok last year on federal government-issued devices due to national security concerns.

The US fears that the Chinese government could exploit TikTok to gain access to these devices and US user data.

Last month, the Dutch government reportedly advised public officials to steer clear of the app over similar concerns.

In the UK, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, MP Alicia Kearns, recently urged users to delete the app in an interview with Sky News.

TikTok has grown rapidly and was the first non-Meta app to reach three billion downloads worldwide, according to research firm Sensor Tower Data.

The social media service’s CEO Shou Zi Chew was in Brussels in January for talks with EU officials, during which they warned TikTok to ensure the security of European users’ data, adding that it had a long way to go to regain their trust .

He insisted the company was working on a “robust” system for processing Europeans’ data in Europe, an EU spokesman said at the time.

TikTok has also promised to keep US users’ data in the US to allay Washington’s concerns.

An EU source told the BBC that the Council of the European Union is also implementing measures similar to those taken by the Commission.

But the European Parliament said, while it notes the Commission’s statement, TikTok is not part of the standard configuration for business entities.

“Parliament constantly monitors cyber security threats and actions that could be exploited for cyber attacks against its corporate environment,” the source said.

Czech MEP Markéta Gregorová said she was “very happy” that the Commission had taken this decision and criticized the “hostility” of the Chinese government.

“I also hope that this will open up a general discussion about cyber security in our institutions and how much the individual levels differ across the Commission, Parliament and Council,” she said.

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