The European Parliament, the European Union’s legislative body, recently announced that it is banning TikTok, a video sharing app, from its staffers’ phones, according to Al Jazeera. The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, has also announced that it will be banning the app. This comes as the app and its parent company, ByteDance, based out of China, have come under Western scrutiny over concerns about the Chinese government’s access to information gained from the app.
Representatives for TikTok and the Chinese government have denied these concerns. According to Reuters, TikTok spokespeople have spoken out against the ban, claiming that this move is being made “on the basis of fears rather than facts” and goes against the fight against misinformation. The European Union is not the only group taking this step against the app, as both the United States Senate and the Canadian government have adopted similar bans.
Despite prior bans of TikTok in Western countries, the European Union’s ban did come as a surprise to many members of the European Parliament. According to Politico, many countries are uncertain of where this move came from, and have reached out to the European Parliament to inquire more about the ban. Though there have been recommendations against apps by the European Union in the past, there have never been any bans on apps comparable to the planned move against TikTok. This also poses an issue given that many government leaders and agencies run TikTok accounts with large followings. The European Commission has cited the action as being necessary for data protection concerns.
TikTok has been working to step up their security features, The Guardian reports. The app’s plan, entitled Project Clover, aims to move their data storage to Ireland and Norway, and increase the vetting of any data stored outside of Europe. Currently, TikTok keeps its information stored in the United States and Singapore. This move in data storage would be accompanied with further monitoring by a European cybersecurity firm, mirroring a similar plan that the app has proposed in the United States. These plans are aimed at easing restrictions against the app, though many governments are still uncertain of who has access to the data being collected by the app and what data is collected.
The European Union sets out three guidelines for the acceptable use and collection of data: contractual necessity, consent, and legitimate interest. According to Brookings, one of these three criteria must be met in order for the collection and use of data to be viable. Contractual necessity is defined as data being needed in order to fulfill a purpose, such as an online store asking for a person’s address in order to ship an item. Consent refers to when a company wants personal information that is not necessary for their service, most often demographic information to focus their marketing. Consent requires that a person be told what their information will be used for, as well as being given the option to decline without punishment. Legitimate interest is more difficult to define, as it includes situations where information is needed and overrides the previous two. The most common example of this is anti-fraud technology.
The European Union is also looking for more transparency in data collection from the United States. A recent deal that CPO Magazine reports was expected to pass through the European Parliament with little difficulty has been criticized for the lack of transparency in the collection and use of data by the U.S. Courts in the European Union have questioned past uses of data by the U.S. government, including the collection of data on foreign citizens uncovered in 2013 by Edward Snowden, and the fact that most U.S. data collection is based on guidelines set up in executive orders that are subject to change by future presidents.