European Commission orders staff to remove TikTok from work devices

The European Commission (EC) has issued a directive requesting all EC employees to remove TikTok from their corporate devices. The suspension also extends to workers’ personal devices where they are used for work purposes.

In an announcement issued today, the commission said that the move was made on security grounds, while suggesting that rival social networks were also on its radar. “This measure aims to protect the Commission against cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyber-attacks against the corporate environment of the Commission,” it wrote. “The security developments of other social media platforms will also be kept under constant review.”

Data concerns

The European Union’s (EU) executive arm is the latest in a line of public entities to ban TikTok, a phenomenally popular social video app developed by Chinese tech firm ByteDance. With more than 1 billion users globally, TikTok has supplanted YouTube among kids and teens in particular, leading the U.K. Parliament to open its own TikTok account last year. This was quickly shuttered¬†after politicians raised concerns around data potentially being passed by ByteDance to the Chinese government.

Elsewhere, the U.S. House of Representatives recently ordered its own staff to delete TikTok from official work devices, while some universities have voluntarily banned the app from campus Wi-Fi networks after state governors issued executive orders to ban the app’s use in local agencies.

Meanwhile, India banned TikTok — among dozens of other China-developed apps — in its entirety back in 2020.

While there is little evidence to suggest that TikTok will be banned nationally in the U.S. or in any European market any time soon, the social network has fallen under increasing scrutiny over data safety, disinformation and its compliance (or not) with Europe’s upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA), rules designed to increase accountability and transparency among online platforms.

In response, TikTok has gone on a major PR charm offensive, including infrastructure investments that will see it open its first local data centers for its European users’ data — the first of these was scheduled to open last year, but has been delayed to some time in 2023. The company also recently announced plans for an additional two data centers in the region.

In response to today’s announcement, a TikTok spokesperson said that the company was “disappointed” with the EC’s decision, adding that they believed it was “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,” the spokesperson said. “We’re continuing to enhance our approach to data security, including by establishing three data centres in Europe to store user data locally; further reducing employee access to data; and minimising data flows outside of Europe.”

However, with the EC’s 30,000-plus headcount now banned from using TikTok on official devices, it’s more than conceivable that such bans will permeate through to constituent EU countries too. Indeed, public bodies in the Netherlands were recently advised to steer clear of TikTok, stopping short of an official mandate. And back in December, French President Emmanuel Macron slammed TikTok over alleged content censoring and its adverse psychological impact on young people.