TikTok banned from official EU mobile devices

BRUSSELS, 24 Feb 2023:

The European Commission (EC) and the Council of the European Union (EU) yesterday announced they will ban China’s TikTok video-sharing application from being used on official mobile devices to enhance the European community’s security against cyber-attacks.

The EC yesterday prohibited its workers from using TikTok on official telephones and asked them, if they have the app installed, to eliminate it from their devices before March 15.

The measure, however, will be reviewed on an ongoing basis, meaning it could be reversed in the future, EC spokesperson Sonya Gospodinova said.

Budget and Administration commissioner Johannes Hahn, whose department made the decision, emphasised to a group of media representatives that step was not taken because of any “immediate threat,” but rather was taken to “further strengthen” the institution’s cyber-security measures.

“It’s of course not a secret that we are under an increased cyber-security threat, therefore we should have to take measures in order to avoid anything in the future.”

Hahn added that the move was part of its continuing assessment and training of EC staff. “From our professional perspective it’s – I wouldn’t say business as usual – but it’s part of our daily work.”

Along the same lines, the EU Council will remove the app from its corporate mobile devices and will request its employees eliminate it from the personal devices they use to access services provided by the institution, a measure similar to that announced yesterday by the community executive branch.

Community sources said the Secretariat is implementing similar measures to those adopted by the Commission.

As they said, the Secretariat of the institution, in which the governments of the EU’s 27 member nations are represented, continually reviews its cyber-security measures in close cooperation with the other EU institutions.

Meanwhile, TikTok has asked to meet with the EC to “clarify” its own security measures noting, as the firm said in a statement, it was surprised the institution had not contacted the company earlier or “offered any explanation” for the move.

The firm said it wants to explain to the EC how it protects the data of the 125 million people who view TikTok each month in the EU, and it said it is establishing three centres in Europe to locally house user data – thus reducing employees’ access to that data and minimise data flows outside of Europe.

This is not the only app that the European community’s executive branch has banned, having earlier vetoed the Zoom videocall app, but it is still allowing similar apps such as Skype Empresarial and Webex to be used on official devices.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament is evaluating all potential data violations linked to TikTok before taking any measures of its own, a spokesperson for the Euro-chamber said.

Brussels for some time has been focusing its attention on TikTok and the other big tech firms, and in this context in January a meeting was held with the CEO of the Chinese firm, Shou Zi Chew, to whom the EC said it would prohibit the use of TikTok in the EU if the firm did not prevent minors from having access to harmful videos and if it did not prevent user data from being passed to third countries.

The EC is following in the steps of the US, where Congress prohibited lawmakers and their employees from installing TikTok on their official phones, and this is a measure that has also been adopted by several US states, including Texas, Alabama and Tennessee, as well as by institutions such as the University of Florida.

The US controversy over the use of the Chinese app became more heated after the recent revelation that ByteDance, the firm that owns TikTok, used the social network to spy on journalists.