TikTok faces government restrictions on UK expansion drive
ByteDance has rejected claims that it is controlled by the Chinese government, or that user data is at risk.
Boris Johnson's top advisers may impose restrictions on TikTok's activities in the UK, but are likely to stop short of blocking plans by the Chinese-owned social media app to set up an international headquarters in London.
A review led by the prime minister's chief of staff Eddie Lister is likely to find the app doesn't pose as big a security threat as Huawei Technologies Co, but may still recommend the government stops the company from moving users' data out of the country, said a person with knowledge of the discussions who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
The popular video-sharing app, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance Ltd, is battling critics concerned it could be used by Beijing to spy on foreign nationals. President Donald Trump has ordered ByteDance to sell its US arm on grounds of national security and privacy -- but European politicians have so far resisted similar moves.
ByteDance has rejected claims that it is controlled by the Chinese government, or that user data is at risk. Executives at its UK operation are, however, braced for greater scrutiny from regulators and politicians. They are particularly concerned by the comparison with Huawei simply because they are both Chinese companies, according to a person familiar with internal discussions at the company.
A spokeswoman for TikTok and a spokesman for Britain's National Cyber Security Centre both declined to comment. A spokesperson for Johnson's office said, “ByteDance's decision on the location of their global HQ is a commercial decision for the company.” The Department for Culture Media and Sport did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Huawei spent a decade building a prominent position in Britain's communications infrastructure only to find itself excluded from the next generation of wireless networks, following a concerted effort by the US and lawmakers in Johnson's ruling Conservative party that the Chinese company posed a security risk.
Last month, the UK government ordered all 5G equipment made by the Shenzhen-based company will need to be removed from the network by 2027.
Some members of Johnson's own party had already voiced concerns about TikTok, which has rapidly emerged as a rival to Google's video-sharing site YouTube, serving as an alternative for creative talent as well as advertising dollars, with over 100 million users in the US alone.
“With a flashy campus in the UK, ByteDance would be free to masquerade as a British equivalent to Facebook or Google, gaining credibility in London,” said Conservative lawmaker Iain Duncan Smith.
Tom Tugendhat, a ruling Conservative Party lawmaker who chairs Parliament's foreign affairs committee, has also questioned ByteDance's reputation within China, last month tweeting that TikTok is a form of surveillance malware.
TikTok has been considering expanding its office in London, making the city its international headquarters. No decision has been made by the company, according to a person familiar with the planning.
The company says it currently stores user data in the US and has a backup data centre in Singapore. Earlier this month, TikTok announced plans to build a new site in Dublin where it plans to store European users' data.
Regulators across Europe have opened probes into TikTok, but politicians appear to be in no hurry to ban it. France has no plans to do so, and either does Germany, according to spokespeople for their respective governments.
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