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TikTok is bolstering its European lobbying team

The hugely popular social media app TikTok has launched a hiring spree for policy managers in Brussels, Berlin, London and Paris as it extends its lobbying efforts to Europe.

The app, which is owned by a Chinese firm called ByteDance, has attracted scrutiny in the US in recent months as its worldwide userbase has swelled to the hundreds of millions and its download rates have surpassed Instagram’s.

In November, it emerged that the US government had commissioned a national security review of ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Miscal.ly, which was merged with another app and rebranded as TikTok the following year. ByteDance has denied that it sends US TikTok user data back to China, but that has failed to allay American lawmakers’ concerns about data privacy and the potential for political censorship.

While the company has so far evaded similar levels of scrutiny in Europe, analysis of parliamentary debates in the UK suggests it is beginning to court British politicians’ interest. The app was mentioned a number of times in both Houses of Parliament last year.

During a debate in the House of Lords last January, Stephen Cottrell, the bishop of Chelmsford, said: “My Lords, an unregulated digital environment is causing moral decay. There is no time to reiterate the various harms that are being caused, but they are deep-seated, corrosive and pervasive. Just last week I was at a school in Essex talking to seven to 11 year-olds about their use of a game [sic] called TikTok. All of them were using it. The lower age limit for using it is 13.”

The UK’s Information Commissioner, Elizbeth Denham, revealed in July that her office had opened an investigation into how the app manages personal data belonging to younger users. “We’re looking at the messaging system, which is completely open, we’re looking at the kind of videos that are collected and shared by children online,” she told MPs. “We do have an active investigation into TikTok right now, so watch this space.”

TikTok is hiring for two roles in the UK: a public policy and government relationships manager and a head of child safety. “The head of child safety will engage on TikTok’s behalf with policymakers, regulators, and NGOs, across Europe to represent TikTok, understand the latest trends in child protection, the concerns of parents, educators and other organisations, and assess how they impact our business and users,” the job advert states.

The company is also hiring public policy and government relations directors in Brussels, Paris and Berlin, as well as program managers in the latter two capitals. The Brussels director will be charged with leading “the strategic engagement with the [European] Council, Commission and Parliament,” according to the advert.

The latest series of job postings was announced by Theo Bertram, a former Google policy manager and adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who joined the company in December. Politico reported in November that TikTok has also hired executives from Snapchat, Huawei and Facebook.

In a post on LinkedIn, Bertram said: “At Tiktok, we want to create a community that is cohesive, fun, and safe. As we grow globally, we want to think and act locally. That’s why we’re looking for talented people to join our teams in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, and London.”

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.