Members of the European Parliament are no longer allowed to have TikTok on their work phones. The Chinese app should also not be on phones with access to work email or the European Parliament’s internet connection. TikTok is facing increasing resistance. Governments worldwide are now calling for a TikTok ban for employees.
Employees and members of the European Parliament will no longer be allowed to use TikTok on their work devices from March 20. Parliament also recommends removing the app from personal devices. The boycott is being set up because of “concerns about cybersecurity”, the parliament writes in a statement.
In some places, such a ban has been in place for some time. TikTok was already banned on work phones of the European Commission and European Council. At least for now. A TikTok ban on work phones has been in effect for US government officials since the end of last year.
Canada also banned the use of TikTok on government phones. And the Danish parliament has been urging officials since this week to remove the video app.
Deleting TikTok from work phones is a security measure. Every government issues the same statement for a ban. So does the Danish parliament: “There is a risk of espionage via TikTok.”
Collecting sensitive information
According to critics, the social media app would pass on sensitive information from users to the Chinese government. In addition, China could use TikTok’s mysterious algorithms to sow disinformation on a large scale and influence the social debate.
Last year it was announced that two American journalists were being followed. Employees of TikTok parent company ByteDance were found to have access to IP addresses and other data. That should never have happened, TikTok said. The employees were fired.
Foto: Pro Shots
TikTok wants in conversation
The company is disappointed with the decision by European government authorities to suspend TikTok on work phones. “We had good talks with Brussels in January,” Theo Bertram told NU.nl. He is responsible for government relations and public policy at TikTok. “No one then cited these developments.”
Bertram says he understands the concerns about TikTok because the company is new and the founder is Chinese. “But judge us by facts, not fears.” He therefore hopes that governments will listen to TikTok’s explanation.
The representative emphasizes never sharing information with the Chinese government. Not even if he asked for it. He also explains that TikTok is not necessarily a Chinese company. “60 percent is owned by US investors, 20 percent by employees and another 20 percent by our founder Zhang Yiming. He worked at Microsoft years ago before starting his own company and yes, he happens to be Chinese. We can’t change that .”
Based on trust
Despite TikTok’s words, governments continue their boycotts. “Can you trust TikTok that they really don’t do it there anymore?” Dave Maasland of cybersecurity company ESET Netherlands wonders. “Civil servants are people with a high risk profile. Then you can think: let’s not use TikTok for a while.”
TikTok can use information for espionage, as happened with the journalists. “People can be followed with location data,” says Maasland. “It can be used to read travel movements and to see which people are in the vicinity of each other.”
But TikTok collects much more, says the cybersecurity expert. The app knows what you type, what videos you watch, how long you do that and what your preferences are. This creates a very detailed profile of the user, which can potentially be misused for disinformation and manipulation campaigns.
Other social media companies, such as Facebook, also collect a lot of data from their users. Yet there is no question of a possible boycott. “We trust American companies more quickly,” Maasland explains. “Government and business are separate in the United States. In China they are much more intertwined.”
No Dutch ban yet
There is no official ban on TikTok in the Netherlands yet, but it is being discussed. A majority of the House of Representatives calls for a TikTok boycott on the phones of government officials.
One of the reasons, according to Hind Dekker-Abdulaziz, is that we do not know what the Chinese company does with user data. The D66 MP asked questions about the use of TikTok within the government to State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen (Digitisation). It will come with answers soon.
The VVD, CDA and ChristenUnie have already said they support the boycott of civil servants’ work telephones. The ChristenUnie also advocates a total ban in the Netherlands. There was not yet a majority for that.
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