TikTok has doubled down on its European operations at a time when the White House has threatened to ban it from the US market.
The popular video-sharing app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, announced plans to open its first European data centre in Ireland, a €430m investment expected to create hundreds of new jobs.
The announcement follows the company’s decision in January to establish a “Trust and Safety Hub” in Dublin that is responsible for content moderation and works with regional regulators to promote safety on the platform in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“You cannot ignore the timing of this announcement given the geo-political concerns between China and the West,” said Paolo Pescatore, a tech, media, and telecommunications analyst.
“This is a statement of intent by the company as part of its aspirations to be a leading global player,” he added, saying that “other tech companies have a strong and growing presence in Europe, especially in Ireland, which is a key hub for data centres.”
The decision comes during a period of uncertainty for the company, which was locked out of its largest foreign market after being banned in India in June. It risks a similar blow in its second-largest market, with the US announcing it would ban TikTok unless its US operations are sold to Microsoft by September 15.
With its privacy practices and alleged links to the Chinese government claimed as justifications for the bans, building a new data centre in Ireland gives the company some room to highlight its commitment to the privacy of its European customers, an increasingly important market for a company with what is often described as China’s first app to reach a truly global audience.
Roland Cloutier, the company’s global chief information security officer, said in a note on August 6 that the investment reflects TikTok’s “continuous commitment to providing a safe and secure app experience for all of our users,” with the new data centre expected to “play a key role in further strengthening the safeguarding and protection of TikTok user data.”
TikTok’s commitment to Europe extends beyond Ireland, with the company opening new sales and support offices in Paris and Madrid, and even considering moving its global headquarters to London, although the company seems to have broken off talks on those plans due to geopolitical tensions, the Times reported.
Mary Buckley, executive director of Ireland’s national investment promotion agency IDA, highlighted Ireland’s integration with the rest of Europe as a motivation for TikTok’s decision, saying that “the vast majority of the multinational companies in Ireland use Ireland as a base to service European and global markets, customers and revenues lines."
“TikTok is one of the largest and fastest growing social media apps in the world,” she said, adding that “IDA Ireland welcomes TikTok’s intention to further expand their existing presence in Ireland.”