TikTok: We are not ‘under the thumb’ of China

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Video-sharing app TikTok has denied accusations that it is controlled by the Chinese government.

Theo Bertram, TikTok’s head of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said it would refuse any request from China to hand over data.

“The suggestion that we are in any way under the thumb of the Chinese government is completely and utterly false,” he told the BBC.

TikTok has come under pressure by Washington over its future in the US.

Its owner, ByteDance, which is based in Beijing but domiciled in the Cayman Islands, has had talks with the UK government about basing its HQ in London.

But the US is considering banning TikTok and may only allow it to keep operating if it splits from China and becomes an American company.

‘Committed’ to UK growth

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who is visiting the UK this week – has alleged that TikTok users in the US are at risk of their data ending up “in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”.

Mr Bertram told the BBC’s Today programme that TikTok had not made any decisions about where to site its international headquarters, but added: “We are committed to growing further in the UK.”

He added that if TikTok were approached by the Chinese government, “we would definitely say no to any request for data”.

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.”

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Media captionWill TikTok be banned?

Mr Bertram also denied allegations that TikTok was lenient towards paedophiles caught grooming children through its app.

The Daily Telegraph said it had seen leaked documents showing that users found messaging children in a sexual way had to commit three offences before incurring a permanent ban.

But Mr Bertram said TikTok had changed its policy more than a year ago and that it had “zero tolerance” for such behaviour.

Any posts of that kind would be removed and the perpetrator reported, he said.

The latest development comes as tensions mount between the UK and China over the government’s recent decision to order the removal of Huawei’s 5G equipment from Britain’s mobile networks by 2027.

There are fears it could prompt a tit-for-tat economic war between the two countries.

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

TikTok employs about 1,000 people in Europe, with the majority of those based in the UK and Ireland.

The Sunday Times reported that a decision by TikTok to build its headquarters in the UK has the potential to create 3,000 jobs.

The Chinese video-sharing platform is hugely popular and the app has been downloaded two billion times.

India has already blocked TikTok as well as other Chinese apps. Australia, which has already banned Huawei and telecom equipment-maker ZTE, is also considering banning TikTok.