Citing security concerns, the European Commission on Thursday banned its staff from using TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media platform, a move that underscores increasing tensions between the West and China.
The rule would apply to the Commission’s official devices as well as employees’ personal devices if they have work-related apps installed, Sonya Gospodinova, a Commission spokeswoman, said.
“The measure aims to protect the commission against cybersecurity threats and actions, which may be exploited for cyberattacks,” she said. The move is the first time the Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has banned its staff from using an app.
Employees have until March 15 to remove TikTok from their devices, according to an email seen by The Times. The Commission described the rule as temporary and said it could be reassessed in the future.
The bloc has been grappling with the growing issue of foreign interference and disinformation coming from third countries, and some Western lawmakers and regulators contend that TikTok can share users’ sensitive information with the Chinese government. Late last year the United States banned TikTok from federal government devices, joining more than two dozen states and some college campuses that have approved some sort of ban on the app.
No European country has yet approved a ban on TikTok, although Dutch authorities have said they are considering a measure to bar the app from government devices.
TikTok has denied that it shares data with Chinese government officials, and it has tried to distance itself from its China-based parent company, ByteDance.
“We believe this suspension is misguided and based on fundamental misconceptions,” TikTok said in a statement. The company, which said it has 125 million users in the European Union, said it was working to improve the security of user data there.
The suspension comes against the backdrop of broader tensions between China and Western countries. Although Beijing has taken a neutral stance toward Russia’s war in Ukraine, it has recently faced U.S. accusations that China may be considering supplying Russia with weapons and ammunition.
Disinformation experts praised the European Commission’s action.
“This move should help to make it a little harder for the Chinese to gather desired information,” said Jakub Kalensky, senior analyst with the Helsinki-based European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.
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