TikTok has announced plans to build a $ 500million (£ 375million) data center in Ireland.
It will store videos, messages and other data generated by European users from short form video sharing app.
Until now, all of its users’ recordings have been stored in the United States, with a backup copy kept in Singapore.
The announcement comes at a time when President Trump has threatened to ban the app in the United States on the grounds that its Chinese ownership made it a risk to national security.
Bytedance, the parent company of Beijing-based TikTok, denies the accusation. However, it is in talks to sell its US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand businesses to Microsoft.
Like many social media apps, TikTok gathers a wide variety of information about its users. Its privacy statement states that this covers:
- age, passwords, email addresses and phone numbers of users
- phone numbers in their address books and contacts on social networks
- Geolocation logs, including GPS coordinates and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses
- details of their devices, including the operating system used, handset model and other unique identifiers
- comments, photos and videos they have posted or at least partially prepared
- browsing and search history in the app
- web browsing data that takes place outside of the app and that is collected through cookies and other technologies
- Payment information
- data obtained from third-party services and publicly available sources
- the typing patterns and the patterns of pressure on the screen presented when using a computer and / or a smartphone which are specific to each user
The data is collected to target advertisements and help personalize its powerful algorithm. But critics say the Chinese Communist Party could demand access under its national intelligence law.
While the Chinese version of the app, Douyin, holds its archives in mainland China, TikTok says it keeps all of its user data separate and does not provide access to the Chinese government.
Given the recent actions of the Trump administration, it is unlikely that the existing company will continue to store the information in the United States.
But the firm said the decision to create a European center was a question it had been reflecting “for a long time.”
“It’s a big investment,” Theo Bertram, the app’s public policy director for Europe, told the BBC.
“It’s a symbol of our long-term commitment to Europe, and I think it’s an important message for our users and creators right now. ”
TikTok’s European Data Protection Officer is already based in Dublin, so the Irish Data Protection Commission is already dealing with related privacy issues on behalf of other EU countries.
As such, the creation of the center is not expected to have a significant impact on European users.
But the company said it is expected to create hundreds of new jobs when it enters service in an undisclosed location within 18 to 24 months.
The decision to base it in Ireland does not mean, however, that London is out of the race to host the app’s world headquarters.
There has been speculation as to why TikTok is in talks to sell some of its business outside of the United States.
On the one hand, it had seemed odd that the deal covered all members of the Five Eyes security alliance except the UK.
On the other hand, the Australian Prime Minister said that a review by his security agencies found that TikTok did not pose serious national security concerns, and therefore no argument for a local ban.
Mr. Bertram explained that the reason the company was in talks to sell its operations in Australia, Canada and New Zealand was because they were currently managed with the United States as one region under the same leader.
Mr Bertram also acknowledged that there had been calls for UK security services to review the app, and said TikTok would be willing to let its source code and algorithm be inspected if necessary.
“We welcome a close review,” he said.
“If the way we are judged is for the security services to do a factual review of what we are doing, we are happy. We have nothing to hide. “