TikTok's employees in China can now access EU users' data; Dutch experts concerned
From today, TikTok’s employees in China can access European users’ data. That violates European privacy laws, Dutch experts told NOS after looking at the social media platform’s updated privacy statement.
It is unclear what data the Chinese employees have access to and which employees have these rights. NOS could not get a response from TikTok. In the privacy terms, the company writes that access is “limited and secure” and “only allowed if necessary under strict security requirements and an authorization protocol.”
TikTok uses a “standard contract” to enable data access from China. “This in itself is an instrument approved by the European Commission,” Gerrit-Jan Zwenne, professor of privacy law at Leiden University, said to the broadcaster. “But the highest European court has ruled that there must be additional guarantees, which I do not see with TikTok.”
“TikTok can only give employees in China access to data from European users if it does not compromise privacy,” said Pieter Wolters, senior lecturer in civil law at Radboud University. “That cannot be substantiated in the case of China. After all, it is very likely that TikTok will give the Chinese government access to personal data.”
The popular video app is part of the Chinese company ByteDance. Given its Chinese origins, there have long been concerns about the power the Chinese government may have over the app. The company itself says that it has never shared data with the Chinese government and would not do so if asked.
According to China specialist Frans-Paul van der Putten of the Clingendael Institute, sharing data with the Chinese government would not be in TikTok’s interest. But because the country considers TikTok a Chinese company, it can request access to the data claiming national security reasons.
TikTok is the fastest-growing social media network in the Netherlands and currently has about 3 million active users in the country, according to figures from research agency Newcom. Half of the Dutch users are on TikTok every day. The actual number of active users is likely higher. Newcom only looked at the population aged 15 and older, and the video app is very popular among children.
TikTok’s privacy changes sparked coalition party ChristenUnie to call for the Netherlands to ban the app, arguing that children are not sufficiently protected. The call did not get much support in parliament, though a parliamentary majority did ask the Cabinet to ensure that Dutch TikTok users’ data is protected.
A Dutch court is currently handling a mass lawsuit against TikTok. The Dutch privacy foundation Take Back Your Privacy claims about 2 billion euros from the social media company, arguing that it violates the privacy of about 1.5 million Dutch children.