TikTok banned on all European Commission staff devices

23 Feb 2023

Image: © chathuporn/Stock.adobe.com

Employees have until 15 March to delete TikTok from any official device that has work-related apps installed.

The European Commission has asked all employees to delete the TikTok app from devices provided by the organisation amid security concerns.

In an email sent to employees today (23 February) and seen by multiple media outlets, the Commission told employees that the ban “aims to protect Commission data and systems from potential cybersecurity threats” and extends to personal devices that have work apps installed.

Employees have until 15 March to uninstall the app from their devices and, according to a Financial Times report, staff were told that apps such as Skype for Business or the Commission’s internal email service would no longer be available on devices that continue to use TikTok.

The unprecedented move underlines growing fear in Europe and the US that TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, may be providing private user data from around the world to the Chinese government for surveillance purposes.

While TikTok has repeatedly denied these claims, governments around the world are sceptical. In some US states, for instance, TikTok is banned on all devices belonging to officials that work for the government. In India, the Chinese-owned app has been banned for all citizens since 2020.

In November, the US state of South Dakota banned the use of TikTok for government staff due to the “growing national security threat” posed by TikTok.

Governor Kristi Noem claimed at the time that China’s government gathers data from devices that access TikTok and uses this information to “manipulate the American people”.

“South Dakota will have no part in the intelligence gathering operations of nations who hate us. Because of our serious duty to protect the private data of South Dakota citizens, we must take this action immediately,” Noem said.

“I hope other states will follow South Dakota’s lead, and Congress should take broader action as well.”

Needless to say, TikTok is not happy with the move. A spokesperson for the company told news website Euractiv that TikTok is disappointed with the decision, calling it “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 125m people across the EU who come to TikTok every month,” the spokesperson said.

Concerns were raised around the authenticity of TikTok’s claims when it confirmed in November that employees in China and a host of other countries have remote access to European user data. Until then, it was believed data was only stored in Singapore and the US.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic