TikTok banned from EU Commission phones over cybersecurity

FILE - A visitor passes the TikTok exhibition stands at the Gamescom computer gaming fair in Cologne, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. The European Union's executive arm said Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023 it has temporarily banned TikTok from phones used by employees as a cybersecurity measure, reflecting growing worries from authorities over the Chinese-owned video sharing app. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File) (Martin Meissner, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LONDON – The European Union's executive branch said Thursday that it has temporarily banned TikTok from phones used by employees as a cybersecurity measure, reflecting widening worries from Western officials over the Chinese-owned video sharing app.

In a first for the European Commission, its Corporate Management Board suspended the use of TikTok on devices issued to staff or personal devices that staff use for work.

TikTok faces intensifying scrutiny from Europe and the U.S. over security and data privacy amid worries that the hugely popular app could be used to promote pro-Beijing views or sweep up users' information. It comes as China and the West are locked in a wider tug of war over technology ranging from spy balloons to computer chips.

The EU's action follows similar moves in the U.S., where more than half of the states and Congress have banned TikTok from official government devices.

"The reason why this decision has been taken is to ... increase the commission's cybersecurity," commission spokesperson Sonya Gospodinova said at a press briefing in Brussels. “Also, 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.”

Caroline Greer, TikTok's Brussels-based public policy official, tweeted that the suspension “is misguided and based on fundamental misconceptions.”

“We have requested a meeting to set the record straight,” she said, adding that TikTok, which has 125 million users in the 27-nation European Union, is “continuing to enhance” its approach to data security. That includes opening three European data centers and minimizing data sent outside of the continent.

Commission spokespeople declined to say whether a specific incident triggered the suspension or what’s needed to get it lifted.

Staffers would be required to delete TikTok from devices that they use for professional business by March 15, EU representatives said, but did not provide any details on how that would be enforced for people who use personal phones for work.

In Norway, which is not a member of the 27-nation EU, the justice minister was forced to apologize this month for failing to disclose that she had installed TikTok on her government-issued phone.

TikTok also has come under pressure from the EU to comply with upcoming new digital regulations aimed at getting big online platforms to clean up toxic and illegal content along with the bloc's strict data privacy rules.