Europe Resists TikTok Ban as U.S. Advances China Tech Crackdown
Signage for ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok app is displayed on a smartphone in Virginia, U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Europe Resists TikTok Ban as U.S. Advances China Tech Crackdown

Europe’s three biggest economies have stopped short of banning TikTok after President Donald Trump threatened to outlaw the Chinese social media app, once again leaving the continent caught between two superpowers.

The U.K. and France have no plans to block the ByteDance Ltd. platform in their countries, spokespeople for the governments said. A German government official said the country has seen no signs that the app poses a security risk and has no plans to ban it. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he hasn’t spoken to President Trump about the issue.

Growing U.S. pressure on Beijing-based ByteDance echoes the White House campaign against telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. The U.K., Germany and France all tried to find a intermediate position on Huawei – attempting to satisfy the U.S. without alienating China, a key source of exports – but their stance has hardened significantly in recent weeks with the Johnson government banning Huawei from its next-generation networks. France has also moved to phase out Huawei kit.

Huawei’s products powered key network infrastructure, underpinning national buildouts of fifth-generation wireless technology and high-speed internet services, and TikTok’s short-video app may be seen as less of a risk. Still, the social media company is facing broader scrutiny over its privacy policies, following an investigation by the Dutch data protection authority amid concerns over the safety of children’s data.

A representative for France’s Digital Minister cited online hate speech and the protection of minors as the government’s main concerns about TikTok.

Microsoft Inc. has confirmed it’s in talks with ByteDance to buy TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand with a Sept. 15 deadline for a deal. ByteDance had unsuccessfully tried to appease U.S. regulators -- who expressed concerns about its data collection and potential connection to the Chinese government -- by distancing its domestic operations from the popular video app, hiring nearly a thousand staff in the U.S. and appointing Walt Disney Co. veteran Kevin Mayer as TikTok CEO.

The U.K. government has also approved ByteDance plans for a London headquarters, according to a report in the Sun newspaper, which cited unnamed sources. A U.K. government spokeswoman said the location of ByteDance’s office is “a commercial decision for the company” and “the U.K. is a fair and open market for investment where it supports U.K. growth and jobs.”

A representative for TikTok declined to comment on the report about the planned office, but said it has more than 1,000 employees across Europe, with about 800 in the U.K. and Ireland. The company has 89 active job openings in London listed on its website.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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