© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: TikTok app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -TikTok accused the European Commission on Friday of failing to consult it over a decision to ban the Chinese short video sharing app from staff phones on cybersecurity grounds, a move subsequently followed by another top EU body.
The app, which is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, is facing growing scrutiny from Western authorities over concerns that China’s government could use it to harvest people’s data. Beijing has regularly denied having any such intentions.
The EU executive and the EU Council, which brings together representatives of the member states to set policy priorities, said on Thursday staff will also be required to remove TikTok from personal mobile devices that have access to corporate services.
TikTok, which has in the past said that data on its service can not be accessed by Beijing, said it had not been told or contacted by either institution ahead of their decisions.
“So we are really operating under a cloud. And the lack of transparency and the lack of due process. Quite frankly one would expect, you know, some sort of engagement on this matter,” Caroline Greer, TikTok’s director of public policy and government relations, told Reuters.
She said she cold not respond to the bodies’ cybersecurity concerns because they had not spelled them out.
The European Commission pointed to EU industry chief Thierry Breton’s comments at a news conference on Thursday where he said the EU executive does not have to give reasons for decisions taken to ensure its proper functions.
“To suspend the use of TikTok is a purely internal decision for cybersecurity reasons to protect the Council General Secretariat’s (GSC) data and staff. As the GSC has no contractual relationship with TikTok, there is no obligation to consult or inform them,” an EU official said.
Greer said TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, who met Breton and other commissioners in Brussels in January, was “concerned and a little puzzled”.
“He has always been very available, you know, responding to the Commission … We have reached out for a meeting in whatever shape or form they would like that to happen.”
Other EU institutions should do their own research before making decisions on the app, Greer said.
TikTok is banned on U.S. Senate employees’ government-owned devices and also in India. The European Parliament has not taken such a step.
TikTok, the popular social media platform that has exploded in popularity over the past few years, has accused the European Union of not informing it about restrictions on the company’s staff.
TikTok recently issued a statement expressing its concern about the European Commission’s proposed ban on all staff from the company from carrying mobile phones, which it states would “significantly restrict” the ability for the company’s staff to “engage, respond and serve its users”.
The proposed ban was reported by the Financial Times, who cited leaked documents that detailed the Commission’s plan to ban all employees at TikTok and its parent, Chinese tech giant ByteDance, from keeping personal smartphones and other wireless devices in the workplace.
The Commission’s plans come as part of a larger effort to clamp down on the company’s data sharing practices, which have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks.
However, TikTok’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Vanessa Pappas, issued the statement arguing that the company was “not consulted” on the proposals and “has not been included” in any discussions with the European Commission about the proposed restrictions.
The company further argued that it could not “receive value” from the proposed restrictions and said it was “seeking clarity” on the restrictions from the EU.
In its statement, TikTok also expressed its “commitment to data privacy and security” and argued that it was already “tackling data security” in “over 50 countries.”
The European Commission has yet to comment on the matter, however it is understood that the proposed ban is part of the Commission’s efforts to ensure consumer data is better protected.
The Commission is expected to provide clarification on the matter and explain its position in the coming days.