TikTok thinks Europe won’t move to a full ban on its app
The United States is considering a full ban on the use of social media application TikTok, but Europe is unlikely to go down that route, the Chinese-owned social media app’s head of European public policy said Friday.
“When it comes to freedom of speech for the public, I think those rules are clear. You’d have to have a very strong legal basis to ban any app in any country in Europe,” Theo Bertram, vice president of government relations and public policy for Europe at TikTok, said in a video call.
Bertram said “there is a clear understanding” among policymakers, experts and politicians he spoke with in recent weeks that a general ban on the social media app’s use in European countries would be “a completely different level of scale.”
In the U.S., the Biden administration banned the app from federal government devices in December. The administration this week ordered that TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance divest from the app or face a possible ban in the U.S. — a reminder of a similar threat under the previous administration led by Donald Trump.
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The Chinese-owned app has faced a barrage of restrictions from Western governments recently, following security services’ concerns that it poses national security risks. In Europe, the EU institutions in February decided to ban the app from officials’ work-related devices, which triggered a series of national governments to impose similar restrictions.
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is based in Beijing and owned by several Chinese investors, including ByteDance founders, employees and global investors such as a United Arab Emirates firm owned by the country’s security adviser.
The firm this month launched a charm offensive with European governments, called Project Clover, centered on keeping more European users’ data on servers in Europe and allowing a European security company far-reaching access to audit cybersecurity and data protection controls.
Bertram criticized the decisions of the EU institutions. He said the European Parliament’s argument contained “basic factual inaccuracies,” said the chamber had made “accusations against us that could equally be applied against other companies” and called the European Commission’s move “patient zero.”
“We think it’s reasonable for us to ask that we get to hear the case against us and be given a chance to provide our defense even though the sentence has already been passed,” he said. He added that a “recourse to law may be limited,” since the decisions were related to employee policies.
Bertram said the company’s CEO Shou Zi Chew sent a letter to the Commission requesting an audience, and that the firm’s chief executives responsible for legal affairs, security and data security and European privacy came to Brussels to try to meet with the Commission’s IT department. TikTok has not received “a single response in three weeks,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Commission said it has already said it is open to meet with TikTok and that a date needs to be fixed.
The story has been updated with a comment from the European Commission.