TikTok, ByteDance Ltd.’s social media app, is facing broader scrutiny over its privacy policies, following a decision by the European Union’s data protection chiefs to coordinate potential investigations.
Wednesday’s announcement by a panel of EU authorities follows the decision last month by the data-protection commission in the Netherlands to open an investigation into the company’s policies to protect children’s data, saying the app is “clearly loved” by Dutch kids.
The company, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has been grappling with mounting questions from U.S. policy makers over whether it jeopardizes national security. It rejects the notion it’s controlled by the Chinese government or that user data is at risk.
The 27-nation EU has some of the strictest data-protection laws in the world. The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, gives EU authorities the power to fine companies as much as 4% of global annual sales for the most serious violations.
The EU group of regulators in their statement also expressed “concerns regarding certain developments in facial recognition technologies,” in response to questions about the use by police forces of such technologies by Clearview AI, a startup that’s scraped billions of photos from social media accounts with the aim of helping law enforcement find suspects without criminal records.
TikTok said in an emailed statement that the company’s “top priority is protecting our users’ privacy and safety” and that it is “happy to cooperate” with the EU watchdogs.
Clearview AI said its “image-search technology is not currently available” in the EU, but that the company “processes data-access and data-deletion requests from EU residents.” The firm “searches the public internet just like any other search engine,” its Chief Executive Officer Hoan Ton-That said in a statement.
The EU authorities said they have “doubts” whether there’s a legal basis for using a service such as Clearview AI.
“As it stands and without prejudice to any future or pending investigation, the lawfulness of such use by EU law enforcement authorities cannot be ascertained,” the group said. “The use of a service such as Clearview AI by law enforcement authorities in the European Union would, as it stands, likely not be consistent with the EU data protection regime.”