The clock is ticking for TikTok. 
Photo: Imago

European Union politicians would also like to have a word with Chinese social media platform TikTok about its data privacy practices. That is, if US President Donald Trump could just be quiet for a moment.

“We have realised that there are a number of issues with how data is handled, especially with that of young people and children. The problem is that it’s not clear what happens with the information that is collected by the app,” European Union parliamentarian Moritz Körner, a member of the business-friendly FDP, told Berliner Zeitung in an interview. A parliamentary enquiry from Körner sparked the European Data Protection Board in June to launch a task force investigating TikTok’s data practices.

The European expectation of data privacy is spelled out in the European Union’s two-year-old General Data Protection Regulation, which is seen as one of the most stringent data privacy regulations in the world. While many companies doing business in the EU must adhere to the laws, businesses such as TikTok – with servers and headquarters outside of Europe – may not.

Körner’s concerns come amid a very public spat between President Trump over accusations the video site is sharing user data with China’s Communist party. Concerns from US politicians have even reportedly led to sale talks between TikTok owner ByteDance and US tech giant Microsoft to end the suspected data leak. President Trump has also said he would want a special payment to the government for its approval of the sale.

Moritz Körner, EU parliamentarian (FDP).
Photo: ZVG

A TikTok spokesperson denied any connection with the Communist party, noting that its servers are based in the US and Singapore. The company has also complained that Washington expects online companies to grant it the kind of access US politicians don’t want the Chinese government to have.

Körner agrees: “We’re lying to ourselves if we think only the Chinese are gathering data.” His suggestion: A joint EU response to avoid having Euro-centric data privacy concerns lost in the battle between the two economic behemoths.

“It’s an absurd situation. With the General Data Protection Regulation we have one of the most stringent data privacy regulations but information from young people and children is being sent halfway around the world anyway,” he says. But: “the best laws don’t matter if we don’t ensure adequate enforcement.”

If European countries join forces now, as the battle rages, its data privacy standards could affect global benchmarks, and not just on TikTok, he says. The regulation is already changing international attitudes: “We have seen a very significant change in the awareness for data protection – even in the US. Americans are also much more critical of major companies,” he says.

Although ByteDance is based in Beijing, the company’s investors are international and include Goldman Sachs, Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic. At least some of the investors proposed carving out TikTok and taking it over to circumvent US politicians in a deal that valued the company at $50 billion, or 50 times expected 2020 revenue of $1 billion, according to Reuters.

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