I love lurking on Linkedin. A couple of weeks ago, something struck me. While Tiktok was facing the prospect of a US ban under an Aug. 7 executive order, many people in my European networks were delighted to announce that they were joining the short video company. Countless emojis were harmed in the making of these Linkedin posts. 

As its future in the US is under threat, Tiktok appears to be trying to fortify its operations in Europe. On Tiktok’s careers site, 272 jobs are posted in Europe (excluding Russia) at the time of writing. Dublin takes the lead with 117 jobs, London comes second with 78, and Germany third with a total of 34. Germany is hiring for offices in  Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. Positions in Madrid, Paris, Stockholm, Warsaw, and Milan are also seeking candidates.

In Europe, Tiktok’s hiring patterns reflect its growing ambitions on the continent and a push to localize and clear the bloc’s data security hurdles. 

A data sweep on Twitter conducted by TechNode indicates that Tiktok has ramped up its hiring in Europe. Bytedance employees and job advertising services including the UK’s Job Centre Plus, a state-run employment platform, have mentioned jobs at Tiktok more frequently in recent months.

(Image credit: TechNode/Eliza Gkritsi)

In August, 42 links to the Tiktok global careers website were posted on Twitter, compared to 12 in February. 

“It’s quite incredible how many people they’re bringing on board. Every week there’s new people,” a new hire who joined Tiktok’s European operations in August told TechNode.

Open positions on the company’s website include a wide variety of roles, from advertising and brand strategists to privacy specialists. Tiktok appears intent on localization, seeking fluent speakers in most European languages, such as Swedish, Hungarian, and Greek.

“Of course everybody is looking at what’s happening in the US,” the recent hire said, “but there’s no anxiety. On the contrary, everyone is very optimistic.”

Despite the ongoing row with Washington, Tiktok hasn’t taken down its job listings in the US. Currently, 465 positions are listed as available in the US on the app’s website. 

READ MORE: China tech faces double compliance challenge in Europe

Bet on Europe

Bytedance’s continued hiring for the popular video app shows it is optimistic about the European market, despite criticism over its privacy policy. Regulators have expressed concern over personal data flowing from the EU to China, the app’s handling of minors’ data and consent. But as long as Tiktok complies with local data regulations, the company should be safe in Europe, experts told TechNode.

Tiktok currently has over 1,600 employees based in Europe, roughly 1,300 of whom are based in the UK and Ireland, the company said in a statement Monday.

A Europe-wide ban is “unlikely,” said Jan Stryjak, Associate Research Director at Counterpoint Research. “Tiktok has not faced the same levels of scrutiny and political grandstanding in Europe as in the US,” he said, so it makes sense that it “looks to establish itself to build on its rapid growth in the region.” 

In Europe, regulators have tried to appear neutral. “I am not in the business of banning any company, I am in the business of explaining very clearly what are our rules,” EU Commission Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Bretton told Politico earlier this month.

“In the short-term, I wouldn’t expect any comparable moves on Tiktok in Europe to match US actions,” Andrew Small, associate senior policy fellow at think tank European Council on Foreign Relations, told TechNode.

By contrast, the situation around Huawei includes “fundamental questions” about the company’s role in Europe’s digital infrastructure and “longstanding issues about Chinese subsidies undermining European telecoms firms,” he said.

Tiktok does not provoke the same sensitivities. “The issues at stake with Tiktok relate to censorship and data use, neither of which is likely to lead to an outright ban, and there will be no inherent objection to Tiktok hiring and investing in Europe either,” said Small.

Beefing up data security

New data privacy and security rules in the European bloc are compelling Tiktok to reconfigure its global operations.

Bretton stressed that the “key subject” when it comes to Tiktok operating within the bloc is data, highlighting the rigor of Europe’s data security and privacy rules in comparison to China.

“The EU has not had to deal with this issue on a really major scale given that Chinese apps have not made many inroads with European consumers,” Small said. 

In August, the European Court of Justice ruled that personal data collected on EU citizens can only be transferred to third countries that have similar privacy regimes. The decision, known as Schrems II, could mean that personal data collected by Tiktok on European citizens can never be legally transferred to China. 

A few weeks after the ruling, Tiktok said its Irish and UK entities will be taking over data management for European users from its US operations. Shortly after, the company announced plans for a new data center in Dublin. According to company statements, the data center will form part of a “Privacy and Safety Hub” for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Bytedance said it plans to spend €420 million ($500 million) on the Dublin data center. The investment will “create hundreds of jobs” in the city, said Roland Cloutier, Tiktok’s Global Chief Information Security Officer in a blog post.

Cloutier previously worked at Automatic Data Processing, a Nasdaq-listed HR systems provider, as well as US computer manufacturer Dell. 

The job listings on Tiktok’s website appear to line up with this announcement. Dublin is the city with the most job openings. 

But the Dublin data center doesn’t mean that Tiktok can put the data security issue to bed. 

The EU is known for having some of the world’s most stringent personal data protection rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In June, the European Data Protection Board, an EU body in charge of the application of the GDPR, set up a task force to probe Tiktok’s data processing activities and privacy practices across the EU, China’s Caixin reported.

Privacy watchdogs in France and the Netherlands have also launched inquiries into Tiktok’s privacy policies, especially as they pertain to Tiktok’s underage users. 

Tiktok has not replied to a Sept. 15 email seeking comment. 

London calling, Berlin texting

Tiktok’s job listings show that politics have not dented its ambitions to be a true multinational. The company is charging ahead with establishing regional hubs and localization teams in key European cities, all answering to a CEO currently based in California.  

London ranks second among European cities in active jobs listings on Tiktok’s careers website. The short video app operator is reportedly considering moving its headquarters from Beijing to London, British media reported in August. 

“A new global headquarters in London could be a huge boon for the UK’s job market, which has suffered in recent months due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Stryjak said. 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will welcome the Tiktok headquarters with open arms, risking the wrath of US President Donald Trump, UK media has reported. 

The British government is reportedly split over the potential Tiktok move. Trade and tech officials and ministers are at odds over how to handle the Chinese tech company, the Telegraph reported citing UK government sources familiar with the matter.

Germany, which ranks third in the number of listed job openings, represents a big market with a big pool of tech talent, experts told TechNode. 

It’s also a strategic location that Tiktok can use to “buy some goodwill, given its outsized influence over the European debate,” Small said. 

Joining the whirlwind

Yet those who decide to join the company in these times are taking on a lot of uncertainty. The app’s US and EU operations were nearly sold to Microsoft after pressure from the US government. After weeks of speculation about a deal with Microsoft, the company has reportedly settled on a partnership with Oracle instead. 

TechNode found two people who have been approached by recruiters. Both said they ignored the recruiters’ messages as they were not interested in working for the short video app. “Tiktok is stupid,” one of them said.

But Linkedin job updates indicate that Tiktok’s attempts to poach top tech talent have been successful at times. 

Many of the new hires came from some of the West’s biggest companies, including big tech. The person who onboarded recently said the salary offer was “very competitive” but didn’t give any further details. But “it wasn’t like I couldn’t trust my eyes,” they said.  

Another new hire said that they were under a non-disclosure agreement that is valid for 100 days after onboarding. 

In a Linkedin search, TechNode identified one person who worked at Amazon for seven years in Germany and recently said they joined the Bytedance app in September. A UK-based professional with four years of experience at Google and three years of experience at Netflix said they took a position at Tiktok in July. Another person who was at Google for two years also said they joined the app in September. 

The European who is considering a position said that working for the Chinese company in the midst of an international storm seemed “insane” at first, but that they have come to appreciate the challenge.

The recent hire said that Tiktok is “an exciting place to work in at the moment, regardless of how safe this job is in the long term. 

“We all know that this industry is moving very fast. But it’s really interesting to be part of this and get this experience at this time,” they said.

Eliza Gkritsi

Eliza is TechNode's blockchain and fintech reporter. When she isn't obsessing over the rise of distributed ledger technology in China, she helps with editing.

Chris Udemans

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com.

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. Before joining TechNode, he wrote about...