Belgium bans TikTok from government phones following similar moves by US and EU

Chinese-owned video-sharing app prohibited for six months over privacy and security concerns

TikTok said it was 'disappointed at this suspension, which is based on basic misinformation about our company'. Reuters
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Belgium is banning TikTok from government phones over worries about cyber security, privacy and misinformation, the country's Prime Minister said on Friday, mirroring recent action by other authorities in Europe and the US.

The Chinese-owned video-sharing app will be temporarily prohibited from devices owned or paid for by Belgium's federal government for at least six months, according to a post on Alexander de Croo's website.

TikTok said it was “disappointed at this suspension, which is based on basic misinformation about our company”.

The company said it is “readily available to meet with officials to address any concerns and set the record straight on misconceptions”.

TikTok is owned by China’s ByteDance, which moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. The company sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots, saying its parent company is incorporated outside of China and it is majority owned by global institutional investors.

But the EU's three main institutions and Denmark's defence ministry have already ordered employees to remove the app from devices used for official business. Similar bans have been imposed in Canada and the US.

The tussle over TikTok is part of a wider global rivalry between China and the US and its western allies over technological and economic supremacy.

Mr de Croo said Belgium's ban was based on warnings from the state security service and its cybersecurity centre, which said the app could harvest user data and tweak algorithms to manipulate its news feed and content.

They also warned that TikTok could be compelled to carry out spying for Beijing, he said, without being more specific.

“We are in a new geopolitical context where influence and surveillance between states have shifted to the digital world,” Mr de Croo said in an online statement.

“We must not be naive: TikTok is a Chinese company which today is obliged to co-operate with the intelligence services. This is the reality. Prohibiting its use on federal service devices is common sense.”

TikTok said user data is stored in the US and Singapore and pointed to new measures to ease European concerns by storing user data in European data centres.

“The Chinese government cannot compel another sovereign nation to provide data stored in that nation’s territory,” the company said in a statement.

Updated: March 11, 2023, 5:54 AM