TikTok to Build European Data Center in Ireland Amid Security Concerns

August 6, 2020 Updated: August 6, 2020

TikTok said on Thursday that it will set up its first European data center in Ireland. The announcement comes amid increasing scrutiny over the video app’s privacy and security risks.

U.S. President Donald Trump, citing national security concerns, on July 31 gave TikTok’s owner, Beijing-based internet giant Bytedance Technology Co., an ultimatum: either sell TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft or any other U.S. company by Sept. 15, or get banned in the United States.

Until recently, TikTok Inc., the company’s U.S. entity, was the official data controller of TikTok. After July 29, the service provider for European Economic Area (EEA)-Swiss users changed to TikTok Ireland, while the service provider for UK users changed to TikTok UK, according to a statement from TikTok.

The company’s “Trust and Safety Hub,” set up in Dublin in January, deals with regulators and governments in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).

TikTok said the 420 million euro ($499 million) new regional data center will enable “faster loading time” to give users a better experience,

“When our data center is operational, European user data will be stored in this new location.”

The investment in Ireland also comes at a fraught time in relations between the Chinese regime and the West, with disagreements on a range of issues from trade and the handling of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak to the political situation in Hong Kong.

Ireland–Europe’s Data Center Hub

TikTok said the investment will create “Hundreds of New Jobs” in Ireland.

IDA Ireland Martin Shanahan
CEO of IDA Ireland Martin Shanahan speaks at a European Financial Forum event in Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 13, 2019. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Martin Shanahan, CEO of IDA Ireland, a semi-state agency promoting foreign direct investment into Ireland, said, “TikTok’s decision to establish its first European data center in Ireland, representing a substantial investment here by the company, is very welcome and, following on from the establishment of its EMEA Trust & Safety Hub in Dublin earlier in the year, positions Ireland as an important location in the company’s global operations.”

Ireland is one of Europe’s biggest data hubs and already hosts operations for major technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Foreign firms, attracted by a low corporate tax rate, directly account for around 10 percent of Irish jobs.

Like many other countries, Ireland’s economy has been bruised by lockdown measures to curb the spread of the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, which first broke out in Wuhan, China, late last year and caused a global pandemic.

Epoch Times Photo

Security Concerns

Cyber-security experts have warned people that TikTok could be used as a spying tool for the CCP, and users’ content the Chinese regime doesn’t approve of could be censored.

Although the company’s data server is in the United States, cyber-security firm Penetrum found that the app is substantially linked with Chinese servers.

Panetrum said in an analysis that “37.70 percent of known ip addresses linked to TikTok that were found inside of APK source code are linked to Alibaba.com; a Chinese sanctioned ISP located in Hangzhou.” (pdf)

Multiple analyses show that TikTok harvests user information including web browsing history, geolocation data, and what other apps a user is running. Chinese security laws also compel companies to cooperate with intelligence agencies when asked, one of the reasons the Trump administration considers Chinese communications apps a national security risk.

“What the American people have to understand is all the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with and seem so convenient, it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party, and the agencies that want to steal our intellectual property,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News.

“Those apps can be used to steal personal and financial information for blackmail and extortion, they can be used to steal business intellectual property and proprietary secrets.”

Neither the Data Protection Commission in Ireland nor TikTok responded to The Epoch Times’ requests for comment.

Cathy He and Reuters contributed to this report