TikTok launches charm offensive, but encounters critical House of Representatives

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A TikTok user views chef Tue Nguyen’s account
NOS News
  • Nando Kastelein

    editor Tech

  • Nando Kastelein

    editor Tech

If TikTok had hoped to remove all mistrust of the tech company with an hour and a half of conversation in the House of Representatives, it did not succeed. The app is made in China and is therefore under a magnifying glass. In addition, the video app is hugely popular among teenagers and children, leading to concerns about their well-being.

That is why TikTok is now launching a charm offensive, hoping to avoid such far-reaching restrictions. They came to The Hague with a team of six people, half of whom actually spoke to the members of parliament.

There are a lot of misconceptions about our app.

Jade Nester, TikTok Europe

In the US, policymakers have been alluding to a far-reaching ban for months, although the question is whether action will be added to the word. That is not the case in the Netherlands or in Europe. However, the national government has banned the use of the app on work phones. The same applies to EU institutions, including the European Commission.

‘Heap of misconceptions’

“There are a lot of misconceptions about our app,” Jade Nester, responsible for data policy in Europe at TikTok, said afterwards when asked for what purpose the company had come to The Hague. “We have taken many steps to protect the security and privacy of our users, we want to explain that.”

Coincidence or not: TikTok yesterday announced the next step in ‘Project Clover’, a plan to ensure that all data from European users is on European soil by the end of next year. A British security firm, NCC Group, oversees its security. “So don’t take our word for it,” said Nester. In other words: there is now external supervision for this.

TikTok’s headquarters in the US

The six MPs from VVD, D66, PVV, GroenLinks, ChristenUnie and Groep Van Haga who were present were mainly critical. Only the PVV explicitly mentioned the positive sides of the app.

VVD MP Queeny Rajkowski asked TikTok to guarantee that China “has no involvement whatsoever with the company”. Nester from TikTok first said that no data is stored in China. Only to acknowledge that “a limited number of employees in China” may have access to what TikTok calls ‘public’ data, albeit under strict conditions.

This explanation led Rajkowski to say afterwards that TikTok had failed to regain trust. D66 MP Hind Dekker-Abdulaziz also said this afterwards.

Nester of TikTok said afterwards that the company also sees likes and other behavior of users with a public profile as public data. That could still be potentially valuable information for the Chinese government, although the company says it never cooperates with such requests.

Data such as a user’s personal email address and financial information is considered ‘protected’ by TikTok and is not accessible to China.

Kids on TikTok

Members of parliament were not only concerned about China’s access to Dutch TikTok data, but also asked questions about the use of the app by children. During the meeting, the delegation emphasized several times that all kinds of measures have been taken.

Part of the TikTok experience in the social media museum Youseum in Amsterdam

For example, if they have a TikTok account, parents can watch with their children and set a screen time. The default is one hour per day. And, TikTok emphasizes, the app is not intended for children under the age of 13, although it is generally known that many children under that age are active on it. TikTok is expected to be fined next week by the Irish privacy watchdog for shortcomings in this area.

There was a spicy moment at the very end of the conversation when D66 MP Dekker-Abdulaziz asked a fairly simple question: can TikTok not make the non-personalized timeline, a measure they have introduced due to new European legislation, standard for minors? Such an alternative timeline is theoretically less addictive because it is not tailored to what the user likes. As a result, it may stop sooner.

There was no direct answer to the question. TikTok especially emphasized how “easy” it is to switch between the two variants. To the visible chagrin of Dekker-Abdulaziz.

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