European Commission Bans TikTok from Official Devices Over Security Concerns

The European Commission has ordered all of its employees to delete the popular short-video platform, TikTok, from their work devices and personal phones if they have any work-related apps installed due to security concerns. The directive, issued by the department controlled by Austrian Johannes Hahn, responsible for the Budget and Administration, is a temporary measure to protect the Commission’s data and increase its cybersecurity.

The European Commission has been in talks with TikTok for some time, reminding the Chinese company of its new obligations under the Digital Services Directive that came into force last November. However, the responses and assurances from TikTok have not been convincing. The suspension of the app is the first time the Board has made a decision of this type. The Board constantly issues security recommendations and good practices with social networks but had not ordered the deletion of an application from a device until now.

The directive stipulates that the app must be removed from official devices by March 15, and other work-related apps need to be removed from personal phones. The Corporate Governance Board has decided to suspend the TikTok app on corporate and personal devices enrolled in the Commission’s mobile device service. The decision could lead to other institutions following the same steps.

TikTok sources reacted to the decision, saying that they believe the suspension is based on misconceptions and that the company has requested a meeting to explain how they protect the data of 125 million people across the EU who come to TikTok every month. The company has been taking steps to improve its approach to data security, including establishing three centers in Europe to store user data locally, further reducing employee access to it, and minimizing data flows outside Europe.

The US government made the same decision in December, considering that TikTok is a Trojan horse for China to spy on. There have been many complaints about security problems, Beijing’s access to information, and how the application has been used to access information from journalists or dissidents. In January, the company’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, visited Brussels twice, addressing security concerns, among other things. The company has pledged to build data storage centers in Europe after admitting in November that some of its employees in China could access the data of European TikTok users.

The European Commissioner for the Common Market, Thierry Breton, conveyed a message to the chief executive that TikTok must change its practices, comply with new European legislation before September 1, and ensure that its content is suitable for a particularly young and vulnerable audience; otherwise, it risks sanctions and even a ban on operating on community territory. The regulators, parliaments, and security services of countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, or the Netherlands have open processes to determine the extent of the security risk and the violation of data protection laws that could lead to further bans or penalties.

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