TikTok Reacts to Government Limitations: “We are Surprised and Disappointed”

The company is working on opening two European data centers to store the continent’s consumer information within its borders. 

TikTok will open data centers in Europe: this is the platform’s strategy to calm fears about Chinese surveillance.

TikTok is in the crosshairs of several governments prohibiting their officials from installing the application on official devices. First, it was the European Commission, followed by the United States and Canada and now other territories, such as Denmark and Lithuania, are joining the initiative.

The reasons are the fear of the possibility that China is requiring ByteDance (the parent company of the social network) to provide data from its users. Faced with these criticisms, Giacomo Lev Mannheimer, TikTok’s director of Institutional Relations and Public Policies for Southern Europe, assures that advocates for transparency: “We publish the reports of Compliance with Community Standards every quarter, we have a Transparency Center so that institutions can come to learn more about the application and we have provided access to our API to investigate our moderation system.”

Mannheimer comments that they are “surprised and disappointed that they have not contacted” the governments before making the decision and have not provided any explanation. 

Jesús López Pelaz, founding partner and director of Bufete Abogado Amigo, explains that the main reason why governments are banning the app among their officials would be its origin. The expert comments that TikTok “complies with the applicable regulations on privacy and data protection.” However, in China, there are no limitations on access to data from technological services, similar to how things are in both Europe and the US. 

The lawyer comments that, possibly, the governments have decided due to the risk that China has access to part of the information of Internet users. According to López, this would mean “a breach of security and uncertainty in environments such as government ones where a high degree of computer security is required.” 

TikTok wants to Strengthen its Security in Europe

Despite the bad image that governments seem to have of TikTok, they are willing to demonstrate that they comply with data protection regulations. Two new data centers are currently working in Ireland and Norway so that European user data is processed within the continent, as part of the Clover Project.

“For a long time, TikTok has stored the global data of users in Singapore and the United States,” Mannheimer says. With the centers that they will establish in Europe, this will change and the information of the users who enter the platform from here will be treated without the need to transfer it outside.

Initially, the company will begin storing consumer data from the continent in Europe starting this year and it intends to continue the migration until 2024. The strategy is in line with others, according to Mannheimer, who highlights that of the United States, where they have collaborated with external agents to control the information: “100% of the data traffic of US users is routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.”

His idea is to do the same in Europe and introduce external agents to monitor the data from the continent itself. The director of Institutional Relations and Public Policies explains that they have two reasons for doing so:

“To incorporate into our approach the latest advanced technologies to support these procedures.”

“The process will be monitored and verified by a third-party European security firm that will audit our data protections and controls, monitor data flows, provide independent verification, and report any incidents.”

The second point is key in a context in which governments consider TikTok not safe for the official mobile phones of their politicians. 

Also read: List of countries that have already banned TikTok

What TikTok must meet to be available in Spain

The data that TikTok, and any application available in Spain, collects are those necessary for its operation. The use of this information should be limited solely to its function “without transmitting it to third parties,” says López.

López points out that computer security experts “question that TikTok does not access data outside the application”, that is, other things on our devices, and that “it shares them in some way with Chinese government entities”. This would not mean that the firm transfers data to the Asian government, “but that some members of Chinese government entities can work within the company that owns TikTok.”  As Mannheimer told, TikTok had contacted the European Commission to meet and have “the opportunity to address any issue or concern.” He assures that “security is and always will be” the priority of the platform. 

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