TikTok’s CEO met with European Union officials on Tuesday over tough new digital regulations in the 27-nation bloc, as the China-owned social media app comes under increasing scrutiny from the part of Western authorities on data privacy, cybersecurity and disinformation.
In meetings in Brussels, Shou Zi Chew and four EU Executive Commission officials discussed concerns ranging from child safety to investigations into user data flowing to China, according to European readings from two of the meetings. and tweets from a third.
TikTok is hugely popular with young people, but its Chinese ownership has raised concerns that Beijing could use it to harvest user data or push pro-China narratives or misinformation. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020.
US states including Kansas, Wisconsin, Louisiana and Virginia have moved to ban the video-sharing app on state-issued devices for government employees, and it would also be banned on the most U.S. government devices under a Congressional spending bill.
Fears were stoked by reports last year that a China-based team improperly accessed the data of American TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a covert surveillance program aimed at uncovering the source of leaks in the press.
There are also fears that the company is sending masses of user data to China, in violation of strict European privacy rules. EU data protection supervisors in Ireland have opened two investigations into TikTok, including one into its transfer of personal data to China.
“I am counting on TikTok to fully execute on its commitments to go the extra mile to respect EU law and regain the trust of European regulators,” Vera Jourova, the Commissioner for Values and Transparency, said after her meeting with Chew. “There is no doubt that user data in Europe is safe and not exposed to illegal access by authorities in third countries.”
Caroline Greer, director of public policy and government relations for TikTok, said on Twitter that it was a “constructive and useful meeting”.
“Online security and building trust is our number one priority,” Greer tweeted.
The company said it takes data security “incredibly seriously” and fired ByteDance employees involved in inappropriate access to user data.
Jourova said she also asked Chew about child safety, the spread of Russian disinformation on the platform, and the transparency of paid political content.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition and antitrust matters, met with Chew to “discuss how the company is preparing to comply with its obligations under the European Commission’s regulations, namely the law on Digital Services and possibly the Digital Markets Act.”
The Digital Services Act aims to clean up toxic content from online platforms and the Digital Markets Act is designed to limit the power of big digital companies.
They also discussed privacy and data transfer obligations in reference to recent news reports of “aggressive data collection and surveillance in the United States,” according to the reading.
Chew also met Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
Reynders tweeted that he “insists on the importance” of TikTok fully complying with EU privacy rules and cooperating with the Irish watchdog.
“We also provided an update on the company’s commitments to combat hate speech online and ensure the protection of all consumers, including children,” he said.
Chew is due to hold a video chat with Thierry Breton, the digital policy commissioner, on January 19.