Friday 17 January 2020

TikTok eyes Dublin for global HQ to access markets outside China

TikTok has come under intense scrutiny in recent months. Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
TikTok has come under intense scrutiny in recent months. Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Social media app TikTok, a video-sharing service popular amongst 14-24-year-olds, is considering Ireland as the location for a new global headquarters.

The Chinese company Bytedance, which runs TikTok, is also considering London and Singapore, sources told Bloomberg.

No American cities are on its shortlist, according to reports.

TikTok has come under intense scrutiny in recent months over alleged censorship of Hong Kong protest content, even when posted by users outside China.

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Dublin stands out as it pairs a favourable tax environment with a deep talent pool. The capital is already the site of Facebook's largest office outside of California, and the European base for companies including Google and Twitter.

TikTok currently doesn't have a headquarters, although its most-senior executive is based in Shanghai and its main office is in Los Angeles.

Senior executives at Beijing -based Bytedance - a startup valued at $75bn (€67.6bn), which owns numerous apps including TikTok - have been brainstorming ideas to rebrand TikTok as it comes under mounting scrutiny, particularly from US authorities.

A headquarters outside of China would also bring TikTok closer to growing markets in Southeast Asia, Europe and the US.

Known for its viral short videos of lip-syncing teenagers and funny pet antics, TikTok rose from obscurity to top app store download charts in early 2019. Its popularity has since spread to India and Japan.

Global downloads for TikTok outstripped Instagram and Snapchat in 2019, according to app analysis firm App Annie.

It had 665 million smartphone monthly active users world-wide in October, up 80pc from a year earlier, App Annie said, with about 20 million of those users in the US.

The app's spectacular rise has attracted attention from American senators, concerned that its Chinese roots could lead to it censoring content to appease Beijing. The US navy yesterday imposed a ban on TikTok on its devices over cybersecurity fears.

The move to establish a global headquarters outside China has been discussed internally for months, one person said. However, the effort is "only accelerating because of the things happening in the US," the person added, referring to the recent scrutiny of TikTok there.

In response to questions, a TikTok spokeswoman didn't directly address the search for a global headquarters, but said its teams around the world have increasingly been given more control over local operations.

"We have been very clear that the best way to compete in markets around the globe is to empower local teams," she said. "TikTok has steadily built out its management in the countries where it operates."

In London, Bytedance was hiring for 38 positions including investment professionals and business development staff.

Additional reporting Bloomberg

Irish Independent

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