The Netherlands wants the Chinese app to clean up its act on data protection before government services could use it
BY PIETER HAECK
January 25, 2023
Dutch ministries and agencies have mostly been following a recommendation to shun TikTok accounts and stop government communication and advertising on the platform | Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images
Public authorities in the Netherlands are being told to steer clear of TikTok amid growing concerns across the EU and U.S. that the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform poses privacy risks.
Dutch ministries and agencies are mostly following a recommendation to shun TikTok accounts and stop government communication and advertising on the platform, two government officials told POLITICO. This is despite the app's skyrocketing popularity in the Netherlands, where it has around 3.5 million users.
The Dutch pivot away from TikTok follows advice issued by the general affairs ministry to "suspend the use of TikTok for the government until TikTok has adjusted its data protection policy" announced in November. While the recommendation resembles a recent U.S. government decision from December to ban the use of TikTok on government devices, the Dutch guidance is far more limited in scope and enforcement.
It's the latest example of how TikTok, owned by the Beijing-headquartered ByteDance, is facing headwinds in Europe, adding to its troubles in the U.S. The firm is already under investigation for sending data on European Union users to China. One of the video app's fiercest European critics is French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called TikTok "deceptively innocent" and a cause of "real addiction" among users, as well as a source of Russian disinformation.
Dutch officials have sought to strengthen ties with Washington in recent months as the U.S. pushes for more export controls on selling sensitive technology to China, including machines made by Dutch chips printing giant ASML. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte this month met with U.S. President Joe Biden, where they discussed how to "quite frankly, meet the challenges of China," the U.S. leader told reporters ahead of the meeting.
The Dutch policy on TikTok, which is effectively a pause rather than a ban, is mainly targeted at stopping the use of TikTok for "media" purposes, a spokesperson for the general affairs ministry said, and doesn't explicitly instruct government officials to delete the app from phones.
The spokesperson said it's hard to evaluate how strictly government services have abided by the advice since the ministry isn't monitoring separate services' use of the app. But the two officials said the advice had triggered a clear shift away from the Chinese-owned app, in line with growing security concerns across the West.
A junior Dutch government coalition party called in November for a full ban on the app "in its current form." Asked by reporters what he thought of this proposal, Rutte said this was "the opinion of five seats in the Dutch lower chamber."
TikTok admitted in early November that some of its China-based employees could access European TikTok user data. It also came under intense scrutiny in the U.S. over a report in Forbes magazine in December that employees had accessed data to track the location of journalists covering TikTok.
This month, TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew visited Brussels to assuage concerns in meetings with EU commissioners including Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, Vice President for Values Věra Jourová and Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.
“I count on TikTok to fully execute its commitments to go the extra mile in respecting EU law and regaining [the] trust of European regulator,” Jourová said in a warning shot at the company. There could not be “any doubt that data of users in Europe are safe and not exposed to illegal access from third-country authorities," she said.
TikTok said in a comment that it's open to engaging with the Dutch government "to debunk misconceptions and explain how we keep both our community and their data safe and secure."