The European Commission has banned staff from using TikTok on their corporate and personal devices amid growing concerns about patent company ByteDance Ltd.’s links to the Chinese government.
The BBC reports that the decision was made by the corporate board of the EC, the European Union’s executive arm, for security measures. “The measure aims to protect the Commission against cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyberattacks against the corporate environment of the commission,” a spokesperson for the EC said.
The ban applies to all corporate devices as well as personal devices that have official EC or EU apps installed on them. The Commission is said to have around 32,000 employees and contract staff, who have been given until March 15 to remove TikTok from their devices. Any employees who still have TikTok installed after the date will lose access to all EC corporate apps, including email and Skype for Business.
Not surprisingly, TikTok opposed the move, saying it was disappointed with the decision, which it claimed was “misguided and based on fundamental misconceptions.”
The move by the EC follows in the footsteps of the U.S. House of Representatives, which banned TikTok on all House-issued mobile phones in December. There are also ongoing calls for TikTok to be completely banned in the U.S. TikTok has so far responded to threats by putting forward a $1.5 billion transparency plan in January before updating its safety policies earlier this month.
A report in December found that TikTok employees accessed the data of at least two U.S. journalists, causing ByteDance to fire four employees. While ByteDance has been transparent with the security breach, that employees were accessing the data of journalists as it is accused of doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party, did not help its cause.
“These national bans are part of a wider issue about how much Chinese influence is deemed acceptable when it comes to national infrastructure and everyday life,” Chris Vaughan, assistant vice president, Technical Account Management EMEA at cybersecurity software provider Tanium Inc., told SiliconANGLE. “We have seen concerns increase in the West in recent months, with the use of Chinese surveillance technology being restricted and Chinese computer chips being rejected. There have been numerous reports of Chinese efforts to sway politicians by way of lobbying and donations, and the public via social media and the spread of disinformation.”
Matt Marsden, vice president, Technical Account Management at Tanium, commented that Chinese intelligence tactics are focused on longer-term objectives and are fueled by the sustained collection of data.
“The immense collection of user data, to now include commerce and purchasing information, combined with biometrics and activity tracking, feeds detailed intelligence to be used in operations,” Marsden explained. “This data can be leveraged to deliver targeted, timely and often personalized psychological operations against individuals or groups of citizens. This has been observed during election cycles and politically charged events in recent years.”