TikTok is controlled by Chinese technology firm ByteDance, which has been accused of maintaining close ties with the Chinese Communist Party. The European Commission said in a statement that the new ban on Tiktok is meant to protect from “cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyber-attacks” against officials.
“The measure is in line with Commission strict internal cybersecurity policies for use of mobile devices for work-related communications,” the statement said. “It complements long-standing Commission advice to staff to apply best practices when using social media platforms and keep high-level of cyber awareness in their daily work.”
European authorities have been wary of TikTok for several months. French President Emmanuel Macron has called the popular mobile application “deceptively innocent” and a cause of “real addiction” among the 250 million users in the European Union, according to a report from POLITICO Europe, which added that Macron has told American investors and French technology executives that he wants to regulate the platform.
TikTok agreed last year to more carefully comply with European Union rules meant to more clearly identify advertisements and protect children from inappropriate content. “All social media platforms are required to play by the rules and make sure that consumers can easily identify commercial content, including when promoted by influencers,” European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders had said in a statement. “We welcome TikTok’s commitment for more transparency in the way it operates its business activity.”
The action against TikTok from the European Commission follows adjacent moves from local and federal officials in the United States. President Joe Biden signed legislation prohibiting TikTok from devices owned by the federal government, while several states, including Nebraska, Alabama, and Iowa, have likewise banned the platform from government hardware.
Renewed controversy over TikTok and overall relations between China and the West occurs after at least one Chinese surveillance balloon recently traversed the continental United States. The vessel crossed Montana, the location of many defense assets and missile silos, then traveled over states such as Kansas and Missouri before the object was shot down by the American military off the coast of the Carolinas. The balloon was reportedly one of several deployed over military sites across the planet.
Various lawmakers in the United States have exhorted regulators and corporate actors to limit access to the platform: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) recently urged Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to remove TikTok from the companies’ app stores over national security concerns, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to force ByteDance to divest from TikTok.
Officials have noted how ByteDance admitted at the end of last year that staff members have “spied on the private data of journalists and others in order identify sources behind articles critical of the company.” The revelation confirmed an earlier report from Forbes which indicated that ByteDance planned to track the location of specific American citizens.
The White House is also expected to unveil an executive order that would ban American investors from funding the development of Chinese advanced semiconductors, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and other technologies with surveillance and military applications, according to a recent report from The New York Times. Revelations of the nearly completed measure came as lawmakers threatened to pursue their own investment restrictions in the absence of federal plans.