TikTok halts plans for London HQ amidst growing UK and China tensions

  • Short-form video app TikTok has postponed plans to open a new global headquarters in London, which would potentially create 3,000 jobs.

    The Chinese social media sensation’s proposal has not been fully cancelled yet but thrown into doubt, as there are growing fears of a tit-for-tat trade war between London and Beijing, according to the Sunday Times newspaper.

    The video sharing platform has 800m users worldwide and has reportedly been downloaded two billion times.

    However, its owner company ByteDance has come under security scrutiny by nations including India and the US.

    India imposed a country ban on TikTok last month and Washington has considered following suit unless it possibly splits from China and becomes an American company, reports the BBC.

    Bytedance is an eight-year-old firm currently worth $140bn US dollars. The Australian reports it is the most valuable start-up in the world presently.

    The company has been criticised for its usage of personal data and the fact that it is based in China, despite its repeated denial that it is not supplying information to the Chinese government.

    A spokesperson for the company said it remains  “fully committed to investing in London” and a spokeswoman for the Department for International Trade said: "ByteDance's decision on the location of their global HQ is a commercial decision for the company."

    RELATED: TikTok blocks under-16s from private messaging

    Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, told The Andrew Marr Show: "We are still evaluating the consequences. This is a very bad decision.”

    He also claimed to the BBC that China “does not want to politicise the economy” when pressed on potential consequences for British businesses based in China following this news.

    Last week the UK government also announced the permanent removal of Huawei technology from the UK 5G network by 2027, which again followed similar measures to the Trump administration.

    Liu Xiaoming said: "It is wrong for the United Kingdom to discriminate [against a] Chinese company because of pressure from the United States."

    RELATED: TikTok slammed for massive privacy breaches and suppressing LGBTQ users

    India has prohibited dozens of other Chinese apps as well and since its TikTok removal, multiple copycats have sprouted up such as Ding Dong which is currently climbing the app charts.

    Instagram recently announced it would be releasing its own lookalike called Reel to over 50 countries too.  

    TikTok allows users to make videos up to 60 seconds long, accompanied by special effects, text, stickers and music. Around two-thirds of the platform’s global users are under 30, and it is part of a family of more than 20 apps that are owned by ByteDance.

    In 2019, US Republican senator Josh Hawley called TikTok “a company compromised by the Chinese Communist Party (that) knows where your children are, knows what they look like, what their voices sound like, what they’re watching”.

    There is no direct public evidence to either prove or disprove this claim, but near the end of last year, data protection journalist Matthias Eberl published a deep investigation into the app and discovered massive violations of user privacy and data protection laws.

    He found that the app is collecting your device information, data on how you use the app, lists of all your watched videos, and all search terms you enter.

    RELATED: NI student journalists reach younger audiences through viral TikTok news videos

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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