BRUSSELS — The European Commission banned staffers Thursday from using the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on their work devices over security concerns, following similar moves in the United States and a growing standoff between China and the West.
European Commission bans TikTok on staff phones
“This measure aims to protect the Commission against cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyberattacks against the corporate environment of the Commission,” it said in a statement.
U.S. House blocks TikTok on official devices ahead of government ban
The decision to restrict access for thousands of employees comes amid growing Western fear about Chinese technology, particularly the potential for Beijing to access user data or conduct influence operations.
In December, Congress banned the app from all federal devices, with more than two dozen states introducing similar bans. The Biden administration is also weighing new rules to limit TikTok and other apps that could be exploited by a foreign adversary to “steal or otherwise obtain data.”
Though Europe has generally been less hawkish on TikTok, the commission’s decision could spur moves from other E.U. institutions or members states. The European Council said Thursday that it will ask staff to uninstall the app from work phones and personal devices that have work apps installed. The European Parliament has not announced a ban.
It is not clear what prompted the commission’s decision and officials declined to comment Thursday whether a specific incident led to the ban. Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said it was corporate decision, not a regulatory move.
In any case, “there were strong reasons,” he said.
TikTok is a private company with major Western investors and international offices, but its parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing. Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have expressed concern that the company’s ownership structure leaves it vulnerable to surveillance and censorship — charges TikTok has tried to rebuff.
TikTok’s CEO launches aggressive push to fend off a ban of popular app
In recent months, TikTok has tried to push back, launching a charm offensive in Europe and the United States in a bid to fend off broader bans.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is expected to testify before Congress in March about privacy concerns and other issues.