Italy, Norway and Netherlands become latest nations to move against the social media giant

  • Officials in Rome are investigating the impact the app is having on its users
  • Dutch and Norwegian officials are considering bans on government equipment

Italy, Norway and the Netherlands are the latest nations to crack down on Chinese social media giant TikTok over security concerns.

In Rome, Italy’s antitrust authority said on Tuesday it had opened an investigation into the app for allegedly breaking its rules by allowing the publication of “dangerous content” that encourages suicide, self-harm and poor diet.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government is trying to ban central government employees from installing the app on their cones – following the lead of countries like the United States and Britain and the European Union executive.

Norway’s justice minister, who previously got into hot water with her active TikTok use, also recommended her country’s government employees on Tuesday not to use the Chinese app on their work devices.

The latest moves come as Chinese company ByteDance, owner of the app, faces tighter regulations around the world, with growing concern over the potential for the authoritarian government in Beijing to access users’ location and contact details.

Italy, Norway and the Netherlands are the latest nations to crack down on Chinese social media giant TikTok over security concerns

Concerns arise from a law introduced in China in 2017 that requires companies to provide the government with any personal data relevant to the country’s national security.

There is no evidence that TikTok shared such data, but there are many fears due to the massive amount of user data collected.

The app, which has more than a billion active users, is also regularly accused of spreading disinformation, endangering users with dangerous “challenge” videos, and allowing pornography when it’s supposed to ban nudity.

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Several children have also reportedly died trying to repeat the so-called Blackout challenge, in which users hold their breath until they pass out.

The investigation in Italy concerns TikTok’s Irish unit, which is responsible for European customer relations, as well as the UK and Italian divisions, the country’s antitrust regulator said in a statement on Tuesday.

Italy’s tax police visited the app’s Italian headquarters on Tuesday, she added.

TikTokd denied wrongdoing and said it will cooperate in the investigation.

The Italian authority said there are numerous videos on the platform of young people engaging in self-harming behavior, such as the recent “French scars” face-tagging challenge, which has gone viral.

According to the watchdog, it “lacks adequate systems to monitor content posted by third parties,” and the app violates TikTok’s policy of removing dangerous content.

The antitrust authority also criticizes the exploitation of artificial intelligence techniques that can “improperly condition” TikTok users.

A spokesman for TikTok denied the allegations, saying the company “does not allow content that depicts or promotes dangerous activities and challenges, suicide, self-harm, or unhealthy eating behaviors.”

“More than 40,000 dedicated safety professionals are working to keep our community safe, and we’re taking extra care to protect teenagers in particular,” the spokesperson added.

Also on Tuesday, the Dutch government announced it would take steps to ban the TikTok app from government employees’ smartphones.

The Dutch government has announced it is taking steps to ban the TikTok app from government employees’ smartphones. Alexandra van Huffelen, the Dutch Minister for Digitization (pictured, file photo), said in a statement that the new policy “goes beyond deterring an application. We are opting for a structural solution that central government officials can rely on to work in a digital world.”
Norway’s Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl (pictured in June), whose active TikTok use previously landed her in hot water, also recommended on Tuesday that her country’s government employees should not use the Chinese app on their work devices

“National government officials are immediately discouraged from installing and using apps from countries with an offensive cyber program against the Netherlands and/or Dutch interests on their working mobile devices,” the government said in a statement, not identifying TikTok by name.

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The new directive came after lawmakers asked whether it was possible to ban central government employees from using the app on work devices.

The advice follows an assessment by the national intelligence agency AIVD, which warned that apps from such countries – including China, Russia, North Korea and Iran – “pose an increased risk of espionage”.

Alexandra van Huffelen, the Dutch minister for digitization, said in a statement that the new policy “goes beyond deterring an application. We are opting for a structural solution that central government officials can rely on to work in a digital world.”

The government said it plans to act quickly to set up all mobile devices handed over to central government employees “in such a way that only pre-approved apps, software and/or functionality can be installed and used”.

The decision comes two weeks after the Dutch government angered Beijing by announcing it plans to impose additional restrictions on exports of machinery used to make advanced processor chips, joining a US push aimed at restricting China’s access to limit materials used to make such chips.

Norway appeared to follow suit amid spying fears, and the country’s justice minister also recommended banning Russian messaging app Telegram.

“In their risk assessments…Norwegian intelligence services highlight Russia and China as the main risk factors to Norway’s security interests,” Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said in a statement.

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“They also highlight social media as a forum favored by potentially dangerous actors and others who seek to influence us with disinformation and fake news,” she said.

The recommendation applies to all work devices used by government officials that are connected to government digital systems.

The youngest member of government, 29-year-old Mehl, found herself at the center of a media frenzy last year after admitting after a long silence amid suspicions about the app that she had TikTok installed on her work phone.

She stressed she deleted it a month later, saying she used it because she needed to reach a young audience — the app’s primary users.

Government employees can continue to use TikTok and Telegram if necessary for professional reasons, but on devices not connected to the government’s digital systems, the ministry said.

Washington has threatened to ban TikTok for all US citizens unless its Chinese owner ByteDance sells its stake in the app. Pictured: Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok

Governments in the UK, United States, New Zealand and the European Commission have banned TikTok on work devices. It was reported yesterday that Australia will also ban the use of government devices.

Yesterday, Britain’s BBC also urged employees to delete TikTok from their phones.

ByteDance is under investigation by the Justice Department in the United States for allegedly spying on American citizens, including several journalists, with the company facing a nationwide ban unless the Chinese owner sells its stake in the app.

TikTok acknowledged in November that some employees in China were able to access European user data and in December admitted that employees had used the data to spy on journalists. However, the group has insisted that the Chinese government has no control over or access to their data.


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