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Brussels government follows federal lead in banning staff from using TikTok

08:45 14/03/2023

Popular Chinese social media app TikTok cannot be installed on the devices of Belgian federal government staff on the grounds that it poses security risks.

Belgium’s national security council made the decision to ban ministers, cabinet members and federal civil servants from using TikTok on their work devices.

“The decision was a logical and necessary one,” said deputy prime minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), adding that Facebook and Twitter were still fine to use.

Various investigations conducted by security services have shown that the Chinese app has several security flaws, opening the door to possible spying on its users' data. The private sector is also advised to be vigilant about using TikTok.

The Brussels government has decided to follow suit with the federal ban, Bruzz reports, and is also asking administrators at the local level to do the same.

“All levels of government should strive to maximise the security of their sensitive data,” Brussels' minister of local government Bernard Clerfayt (DéFI) said.

The ban is currently in place for six months, at which point it could be renewed.

The federal measure applies to anyone whose device is wholly or partly under federal authority. It does not cover police, but the security council is also advising law enforcement officers to not install the Chinese app.

The Brussels Capital-Ixelles police zone force has also been on TikTok since summer 2020 – the first Belgian police zone to create an account on the site.

It has not yet made the decision to suspend the account, but is "definitely taking it into consideration", a spokesperson said.

Several Brussels MPs are fond of TikTok, and some even see a use for it in terms of connecting with constituents. But from now on, they will not be able to use it when inside the Brussels parliament, connected to the regional network.

It is also forbidden to post or view content with a device (smartphone, tablet, computer) that is also used to consult documents from the chamber's services. In other words, the ban applies to the use of all professional devices.

An estimated 400-450 people would be affected, RTBF reports, ranging from staff to MPs and parliamentary collaborators.

Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort (PS) added that an item relating to the TikTok ban will be put on the agenda of the next council of ministers, which will be held on Friday.

Belgium is not the first or only government to ban TikTok from the devices of government workers due to concerns that the Chinese app could – or does – function as spyware.

TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and has nearly 150 million active users worldwide. And at the moment, European users’ data is stored in Singapore and the US.

But as the company faces a loss in users due to growing distrust, it is working with a European partner company to ensure that this data is not transferred to China.

“There are real suspicions because the code of this application is written in such a way that it is very difficult to understand, even incomprehensible,” said Axel Legay, professor at UCLouvain and specialist in cybersecurity.

“At first, it was designed to protect against industrial espionage, but it also protects against audits. Another thing that surprises us is the number of settings that this application asks you to open on a mobile phone, including ones you don’t need in order to use the app.

"So it’s a whole series of things that are a bit odd for a computer program that make us think that there is indeed a risk.”

Written by Helen Lyons