Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, Wednesday, November 16, 2022.

Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, banned its employees from using TikTok on their smartphones amid concerns from Western governments about the risks the platform could pose to national security.

The commission said staff would no longer be able to have the Chinese-owned app installed on business and personal devices, citing concerns about how it handles user data.

“This measure aims to protect the Commission against cyber security threats and measures that could be exploited for cyber-attacks against the Commission’s business environment,” the Commission said in a statement published on Thursday.

“Security developments for other social media platforms will also be kept under constant review,” it added.

The move illuminates more aggressive tone Europe has recently taken notice of TikTok, which has long escaped regulatory scrutiny in the bloc. US lawmakers voted to block the app in December and some are calling for the service to be banned nationwide.

Western officials are concerned about the potential influence of China’s government over TikTok — particularly the risk that it could enable Beijing to spy on citizens. TikTok has acknowledged that data on its European users can be accessed by employees based in China, but denies that it would ever share such information with the Chinese government.

Last month, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton warned that the app could face a possible ban if it does not comply with its incoming Digital Services Act, which this summer will impose sweeping requirements on TikTok, Twitter and several other platforms to remove illegal content, curb misinformation, and better protect minors.

“The European Commission’s suspension of TikTok on business units is misguided and based on fundamental misconceptions,” Caroline Greer, head of public policy at TikTok, said on Twitter. “We have requested a meeting to set the record straight.”

“We continue to improve our strategy for data security — establishing three data centers in Europe to store user data locally; further reduce employee access to data; and minimize data flows outside of Europe.”

TikTok is not yet a giant in the scale of companies that Meta, Alphabet and Amazon when it comes to social media, advertising and e-commerce. But its rise in the region should not be underestimated. The platform now has 150 million users in Europe, according to a statement from the company last week.

TikTok, which employs 5,000 people in Europe, has sought to allay regulators’ concerns by outlining plans to migrate European users’ data to data centers under development in Ireland. Last week, the company announced that it would open a third data center in the country.

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