European Commission bans staff from using TikTok

Directive comes during heightened concerns in the West that China could use platform to collect user data

TikTok previously admitted that parent company ByteDance used its data to monitor journalists. AFP
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The European Commission has asked its staff to uninstall the TikTok social media application from their devices in what a representative described as the first time that the bloc's executive arm had taken such a decision.

The directive applies to corporate and personal devices enrolled in its mobile service, Sonya Gospodinova, the commission's internal market, defence industry and space spokeswoman, told The National on Thursday.

At a press briefing, Ms Gospodinova later clarified that the decision was temporary and "under constant review and possible reassessment". She did not say what steps TikTok must take for the commission to reverse the plan.

The commission suspended TikTok to increase its cybersecurity and protect it against cybersecurity threats "which may be exploited for cyber attacks against the corporate environment of the commission", Ms Gospodinova said.

Commission staff reportedly have until March 15 to comply.

"I believe that this is the first time that there is a specific decision that leads to the suppression of an application, in this case TikTok, from the commission's devices," European Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters.

A representative for TikTok said it was "disappointed with this decision, which we believe to be misguided and based on fundamental misconceptions".

The move comes amid heightened concerns among western countries that China could use the platform to collect user data, although none of the 27 countries in the EU have issued a ban yet.

A top EU official warned TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew last month that the company would have to comply with the bloc's new digital rules.

TikTok admitted last year that some staff in China were able to gain access to the data of European users.

It was later forced to confirm that ByteDance staff had used TikTok data to track journalists in an effort to identify a source of leaks to the media.

The company denies the Chinese government has any control or access to its platform.

There was no immediate comment on whether other EU institutions such as the European Council, which represents member states, or the European Parliament would take similar measures.

Several countries have restricted or banned access to TikTok in the past.

In December, the US banned the use of TikTok on federal government devices.

India banned TikTok completely in 2020, citing privacy concerns, after a military clash in disputed Indian-Chinese territory.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020.

The EU has taken a tough line on technology companies, passing two major laws to make sure social media platforms adhere to the bloc's rules on digital issues.

The Digital Services Act forces social media platforms, online marketplaces and search engines to react more quickly to remove content considered to be in breach of EU regulations.

The other, the Digital Markets Act, prohibits anti-competitive behaviour by the so-called "gatekeepers" of the internet.

Brussels-based news website Euractiv first reported on the commission's decision.

Updated: February 23, 2023, 2:27 PM