Governments said TikTok’s links to China made it a national security threat, but the company has disputed this from the start. It looked as though things may calm down after U.S. President Donald Trump gave his “blessing” to a TikTok deal with Oracle and Walmart on Sunday, but Beijing is yet to give its approval. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Assuming the deal does go through, what happens to TikTok in Europe? Home to more than 100 million TikTok users and over 1,600 TikTok employees, Europe has hardly been mentioned in this whole saga. But TikTok’s users, advertisers and employees must be wondering how they’re going to be affected, if at all.
Less than a month ago, there was talk of putting TikTok’s international headquarters in London, but that looks increasingly unlikely. “Assuming the Oracle/Walmart deal goes through, then the HQ for TikTok Global for sure is in the States,” said Matthew Brennan, a social media analyst based in China.
TikTok has offices in Paris, Berlin, and Dublin, but London is TikTok’s biggest hub in Europe by some margin. “For London to be the HQ of a company like TikTok would have been a coup for the city, but alas it seems not to be,” Brennan told CNBC, adding that it would have greatly raised the prestige of London in terms of attracting international tech talent.
The U.K. is facing something of a “tech drain” as companies exit or change strategy, said Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical futurist at the Center for Innovating the Future, a strategy consulting firm.
“First, Nvidia bought Arm,” he said. “Now, TikTok is changing gears on its HQ. This is about far more than lost investment and jobs. Wherever these firms are, they will give rise to the next generation of ecosystems and industries. As tech firms exit the U.K. for the U.S., new geopolitical tensions may emerge between London and Washington — over technology.”
Not everyone thinks it matters if TikTok sets up its international HQ outside of London, though. Timothy Armoo, chief executive of Fanbytes, a company that helps brands advertise through social video, told CNBC: “I don’t think it’d be such a big loss to be fair.”
“The London ecosystem is pretty advanced with some incredible companies based here,” he said. “Sure, the lack of jobs will be a short term hit but long term I think any impact will be pretty small.”