London — Social media platform TikTok has been the focus of US lawmakers for months, and the sentiment is spreading across the Atlantic. European lawmakers are expressing growing concern over the Chinese-owned app’s data policies influence on youthand European regulators may have more powerful legal weapons at their disposal to challenge the company.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the most prominent European leader to criticize the social platform, whose parent company ByteDance is based in China. At a mental health event in December, Macron called TikTok the “most destructive” social network for young people, warning that it was “deceptively innocent” and addictive.

“We remain vigilant in any situation that compromises the protection of our citizens’ data,” Jean-Noel Barot, the minister for the digital transition and telecommunications, told CBS News, adding that he meets “regularly.” with TikTok executives in France to discuss “issues of data protection and content moderation and the protection of minors.”

German MEP Moritz Koerner has been pushing EU regulators to crack down on TikTok for years.

“From a geopolitical point of view, the EU’s inaction on TikTok was naive,” he told CBS News. “TikTok data dragon to be brought under surveillance by European authorities”.

ByteDance’s investigation found that employees accessed some TikTok user data in the US


Koerner said the EU has been slow to oversee the platform, arguing that Tiktok “poses several unacceptable risks” for users, including “data access by Chinese authorities, censorship and surveillance of journalists.”

Maximilian Funke-Kaiser, a spokesman for Germany’s liberal FDP party, told CBS News that TikTok was guilty of “systematic abuse of data” and said concerns about the app’s security were “justified.”

“To be clear: if you do business here and make a lot of money from it, you also have to comply with the current law. Otherwise, there is no place for the company here,” he said.

Funke-Kaiser said steps taken by the US government to ban employees from using the platform should be replicated in Germany.

“I believe that banning TikTok from the work equipment of US government officials is appropriate given the risks to data protection and security,” he said.

Responding to concerns raised by European officials, a TikTok spokesperson told CBS News in an email that the company responded to the U.S. ban by putting together “a comprehensive package of measures with levels of government and independent oversight to ensure there are no backdoors in TikTok , which could be used to manipulate the platform.”

“These measures go beyond what any analog security company does today,” a TikTok spokesperson said.

Legal problems

While the United States made a move banning TikTok on government devices in the name of national security, the EU’s extensive data protection laws that already exist could become an even bigger headache for TikTok executives.

TikTok is currently the subject of two investigations by Ireland’s data protection regulator over the transfer of user data to China, which may violate the country’s laws, as well as possible violations of children’s privacy.

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The company could also be subject to a direct audit and face fines of up to 6% of the platform’s annual revenue under the new EU Digital Services Act if it is found not to be complying with the law.

It is in this context that the CEO of TikTok, Show Zi Chu, flew to Brussels last week. The social media chief was on a charm offensive to try to calm concerns, but Europe’s top political leaders sent him home with stern warnings.

“I expect that TikTok will fully comply with its obligations to comply with EU law and regain the trust of European regulators. There can be no doubt that user data in Europe is safe and not subject to illegal access by third country authorities. “, – the vice-president of the European Commission for Values ​​and Transparency, Vera Yurova, told journalists after the meeting.

A TikTok spokesperson told CBS News that the company has “a clear plan that we’re already implementing to reassure our community that they can trust us with their data… This includes keeping European user data in our data center operations in Ireland starting this year; further reduction of employee access to data; and minimizing data flows outside of Europe.”

“Europe must finally wake up”

Tiktok’s relationship with the Chinese government is complicated. The platform’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing, and while the company denies sharing data with Chinese authorities, TikTok acknowledged in policy update Last November, Chinese employees could be granted “remote access” to the data of European users.

The admission raised concerns that the Chinese government could legally compel ByteDance to hand over any user data the company has access to. Given that the ruling Communist Party of China has complete control over all affairs within the country without any checks and balances, this is not a cause for concern.

ByteDance collects a significant amount of data through TikTok and other digital properties. According to the company’s own privacy policy, TikTok collects usernames, passwords, phone numbers, private in-app messages, mobile networks users use, their contacts, satellite location information, and payment information such as credit card information.

And TikTok is growing fast. As of June 2022, there were 227.81 million users in Europe. To put this into context, there were less than 100 million Twitter users in Europe as of 2022, according to DataReportal.

Koerner believes it’s time for European lawmakers to regulate video-sharing apps by simply enforcing existing laws.

“TikTok’s success is the result of European policy failure,” he told CBS News. “Europe needs to finally wake up… If TikTok refuses to comply with EU laws, it should be banned.”

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