TikTok may be sending some EU data to China, according to DPC

12 Mar 2021

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The Irish Data Protection Commissioner said there has been ‘intensive engagement’ with TikTok about how it manages data.

Ireland’s data protection commissioner, Helen Dixon, has said some of TikTok’s EU data may be accessible to teams in China.

Speaking at an online Euractiv event this week, Dixon said: “TikTok tells us that EU data is transferred to the US and not to China, however we have understood that there is possibility that maintenance and AI engineers in China may be accessing data.”

Dixon said there has been “intensive engagement” with the Chinese-owned company. “There’s a whole lot more we need to understand about all of that.”

A spokesperson for the DPC told Siliconrepublic.com that TikTok had indicated that teams in China had “some limited access to some data” regarding algorithmic work.

“We are engaged with TikTok to better understand what’s happening right across the board and how they process data and this is one of the areas we’re engaged with them on.”

Last summer, TikTok announced that the company’s Dublin office would be responsible for privacy oversight of its European users. Then in December, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) became its lead supervisory authority in the EU. According to the Business Post, correspondence showed the DPC had expressed detailed reservations about the company’s growing presence in Ireland ahead of that decision.

TikTok announced plans to expand its Dublin team at the end of last year, hoping to increase its headcount more than 1,100 by January 2021. The company also plans to build a €420m data centre in Ireland, which is expected to be operational by 2022 and will be TikTok’s first European data centre.

TikTok under scrutiny

While concerns have been raised in the US regarding TikTok and its links to China, particularly from former US president Donald Trump, the video-sharing app has also faced problems in Europe, specifically relating to children’s data.

In May 2020, the Dutch privacy authority expressed concerns about how TikTok handles the data of its young users. The regulator said it would examine whether the app clearly states how it uses data and whether parental consent is required for TikTok to collect, store and use children’s personal data.

In January of this year, the Italian data protection authority ordered the company to stop collecting and using children’s data. And last month, European consumer rights group BEUC levelled a series of complaints against the social media platform over alleged violations of EU consumer laws and how it protects child user data.

“In just a few years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media apps with millions of users across Europe,” Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said. “But TikTok is letting its users down by breaching their rights on a massive scale. We have discovered a whole series of consumer rights infringements and therefore filed a complaint against TikTok.”

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic