What it could take for the EU to ban TikTok

The US is becoming increasingly aggressive towards TikTok. In March, the House of Representatives passed a bill This could lead to the Chinese social media app being banned across the country due to security concerns.

If enacted, the bill would give ByteDance – the company that owns TikTok – six months to sell the platform. If this does not happen, TikTok will not be accessible to users in the USA. While there is still a long way to go Before this becomes a reality, the intent is clear: the US government will ban software it sees as a threat.

That got us thinking: could the same thing happen in Europe? Would the EU ever try to abolish TikTok?

The signs are there. In 2023 The EU has banned TikTok from the devices of the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU Council members. This was done due to “concerns regarding cybersecurity, particularly regarding data protection and the collection of data by third parties.”

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Furthermore, it said: “highly recommended“MEPs, their assistants and everyone involved in the above-mentioned bodies must also remove the app from their personal devices.

So could the European Union follow the US's lead and try to curb TikTok on the continent? Let's find out.

Will the EU ban TikTok?

The short answer is no. It is hardly possible that the EU itself will impose a nationwide ban on the social media app. The experts we spoke to agreed on this.

Ronan Murphy – the Director of the Digital Innovation Initiative at CEPAthe Center for European Policy Analysis, was blunt in its analysis, saying an EU TikTok ban was “unlikely.”

This was confirmed by Matej Šimalčík, executive director of CEIAS (Central European Institute for Asian Studies), who says that this is “very unlikely”.

One reason the TikTok ban probably won't happen is simple: it's not something the European Union is actually doing. CEPA’s Murphy explains: “the Digital Markets Act (DMA), Digital Services Act (DSA)And GDPR are the means of choice for the European Commission when it comes to controlling technology use and data protection, not banning apps.”

Šimalčík agrees, saying that the governing body's approach to technology issues is not to ban things, but rather to focus on “investigating specific violations of the law and sanctioning them.”

In many ways this shows the difference between the US and EU legal systems, with the former having a common law system and the latter using a civil law framework – something we have already discussed in relation to the DMA. Generally, common law lets things rest until action is required, while civil law tends to focus on comprehensive regulation.

Simply put: bans are not the way the EU does things.

Another reason why TikTok won't disappear from Europe entirely – which both Murphy and Šimalčík emphasized – is that national security is a matter for member states. Since each country is responsible for its own security, the EU will not intervene with blanket bans. That is up to the nations themselves.

The ripple effect

However, this means that individual countries in the EU could Ban TikTok – and this is where things get interesting. What happens if the US actually bans TikTok?

The United States is so powerful politically, economically and culturally that its actions have an enormous influence on European nations.

“A US ban on the app could trigger a chain reaction in some EU member states whose security policies are closely aligned with those of the US,” says Šimalčík.

Additionally, Murphy tells me he thinks if the US continues to block TikTok could bans at Member State level for safety reasons.”

Perhaps the United States' abandonment of TikTok could generate so much momentum that several EU member states would do the same, either because they want to align their policies with those of the US or because they want to reassure the public that they are ready against perceived threats to proceed.

There was a similar precedent in the past. When The US began banning 5G devices from Huawei and ZTE in 2019, A number of European nations followed suitincluding Great Britain, France and Germany.

Still, it's important to note that Murphy believes the chance of an outright TikTon ban in the US is unlikely, as the bill must pass the Senate and “overcome the inevitable legal challenges” before it is officially ratified.

So, according to Šimalčík, while the EU will stick to “its typical approach of targeting and resolving specific problems,” its member states will not necessarily follow the same path.

How dangerous is TikTok?

This all creates a somewhat confusing picture. It's clear that European lawmakers are concerned about TikTok and its influence, so it seems somewhat counterintuitive that it would be allowed to continue operating.

The US's talk of a ban makes it clear that the country sees it as a threat to national security, while the EU's approach sends the message that all it takes is a few adjustments to meet standards – so what's that Truth?

“TikTok is a powerful app that is vulnerable to abuse,” Murphy said. It has a large and active user base and malicious actors could use it to spread false or harmful information at incredibly high speeds.

Global political elements also play a role. “It's widely accepted that TikTok and all major Chinese tech companies are controlled to some extent by the Chinese authorities,” Murphy tells me, “so in that sense TikTok is a Chinese 'vector'.”

Šimalčík supports much of this. He says the Chinese government could force ByteDance to “share its data with the party-state apparatus to advance China’s political interests.”

He explains that this has its roots in China State Security Act 2015 And Intelligence Act 2017something that “requires all Chinese citizens and businesses to assist the government in matters related to China’s national security and intelligence activities.”

Nationality is really the key point here. “From a national security perspective, the country of origin makes a big difference in assessing whether these violations are “just” legal issues or whether they also pose a security risk,” says Šimalčík.

While apps like Facebook and Instagram have their own privacy concernsThey come from an allied country. But TikTok? And China? This is a nation that many in the West view far more suspiciously.

What happens next?

As far as the US is concerned, the likelihood is not great – apart from a lot of press coverage. Even though a warning shot has been fired about ByteDance's bug, the likelihood of the ban taking effect is quite low. It could happen, but it would be a surprise.

When it comes to the EU, things are less clear. As Murphy previously pointed out, the EU will seek to use its regulatory toolkit – the aforementioned DSA, DMA and GDPR – to manage and mitigate TikTok.

The problem lies in enforcement, something Murphy sees as “a Sisyphean task.” Considering the EU had problems with this in the pastit means that “the risk of abuse remains.”

So it seems we are at something of a dead end. The US is bold and has little chance of success, and the EU is taking a more subtle approach with a poor track record of enforcement.

The hope is that TikTok recognizes these pressures, finds a way to decouple from the Chinese state and provides solid assurances about any privacy concerns – but that's more of a pipe dream. Currently, the way the EU and US are handling TikTok feels like a lot of bark and little bite.

What does that mean? Well, if you're a European TikTok fan, you probably don't have to worry about the app going away any time soon.

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