The European Commission has banned its staff from using the popular Chinese social media app TikTok over security concerns. This move is the latest example of the growing tensions between Beijing and the West, as Western governments become more alarmed by the evidence that Chinese technology companies are helping the Communist Party and its intelligence services gather vast amounts of data worldwide, with a particular focus on high-value political and security targets.
Orders to Remove TikTok from Official Devices
A senior official told POLITICO that all staff was ordered on Thursday morning to remove TikTok from their official devices. They must also remove the app from their devices if any work-related apps are installed. Alternatively, the staff members can delete work-related apps from their phones if they insist on keeping TikTok. The Commission has a "bring your own device" policy that senior officials describe as "horrible" from a security perspective.
Instructions for Uninstalling TikTok
The European Commission sent an email to staff on Thursday morning stating that to protect the 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. Officials must uninstall the video-sharing app "at their earliest convenience" before March 15. As of March 15, devices with the app installed will be considered non-compliant with the corporate environment.
Temporary Restriction Under Review
Spokespeople Eric Mamer and Sonya Gospodinova said that the restriction resulted from a "careful" analysis but declined to disclose the information that led them to conclude that the app poses significant cybersecurity and data risks for the EU executive. They said the restriction was temporary and under "constant review and possible reassessments."
European Union Institutions to Follow Suit
The other institutions of the European Union, including the Council and the Parliament, are likely to follow suit and ban the use of the Chinese app. However, it may take much longer for the Parliament, in particular, to implement such a policy.
TikTok has stated that the decision was "misguided." A TikTok spokesperson said, "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."
Growing Government Scrutiny of TikTok in Europe
Government scrutiny of TikTok, which around 125 million Europeans regularly use, has increased recently, with Commission officials warning TikTok's CEO Shou Zi Chew on his first visit to Brussels to respect European laws. Yet, aside from public authorities in the Netherlands who were told to suspend the app, most EU countries and Brussels had, until now, mostly shied away from banning the use of TikTok.
Data Protection Authority Investigation
TikTok is also being investigated by its lead European data protection authority in Ireland for potentially unlawful transfers of European citizens' data to China under the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). TikTok admitted in early November that some of its China-based employees could access European TikTok user data. Still, to assuage fears, the company announced last week it was looking into keeping European users' information in three data centers in Europe.