TikTok accuses EU of keeping it in the dark over staff phone ban

Reuters | February 24, 2023

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By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -TikTok accused the European Commission on Friday of failing to consult it over a decision to ban the Chinese short video sharing app from staff phones on cybersecurity grounds, a move subsequently followed by another top EU body.

The app, which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, is facing growing scrutiny from Western authorities over concerns that China’s government could use it to harvest people’s data. Beijing has regularly denied having any such intentions.

The EU executive and the EU Council, which brings together representatives of the member states to set policy priorities, said on Thursday staff will also be required to remove TikTok from personal mobile devices that have access to corporate services.

TikTok, which has in the past said that data on its service can not be accessed by Beijing, said it had not been told or contacted by either institution ahead of their decisions.

“So we are really operating under a cloud. And the lack of transparency and the lack of due process. Quite frankly one would expect, you know, some sort of engagement on this matter,” Caroline Greer, TikTok’s director of public policy and government relations, told Reuters.

She said she cold not respond to the bodies’ cybersecurity concerns because they had not spelled them out.

The European Commission pointed to EU industry chief Thierry Breton’s comments at a news conference on Thursday where he said the EU executive does not have to give reasons for decisions taken to ensure its proper functions.

“To suspend the use of TikTok is a purely internal decision for cybersecurity reasons to protect the Council General Secretariat’s (GSC) data and staff. As the GSC has no contractual relationship with TikTok, there is no obligation to consult or inform them,” an EU official said.

Greer said TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, who met Breton and other commissioners in Brussels in January, was “concerned and a little puzzled”.

“He has always been very available, you know, responding to the Commission … We have reached out for a meeting in whatever shape or form they would like that to happen.”

Other EU institutions should do their own research before making decisions on the app, Greer said.

TikTok is banned on U.S. Senate employees’ government-owned devices and also in India. The European Parliament has not taken such a step.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Louise Heavens)