In 2021, TikTok reached one billion monthly users, becoming the most popular app globally. Concerns around data breaches and privacy are increasing, and the Chinese-owned app recently announced its two new data center locations in Europe to address these worries.
TikTok’s new data center expansion initiatives, including the recently announced construction of a 90–150 megawatts (MW) data center in Norway by Green Mountain and a second data center in Ireland, aim to enhance privacy and comply with regulatory requirements. However, concerns surrounding privacy and data protection persist, as calls to ban TikTok continue despite new European data centers. As discussions continue, the fate of TikTok hangs in the balance, with ongoing deliberations focused on determining the necessary steps the company must take to regain western governments’ trust and whether it is possible. And now, actions are following the concerns. On Wednesday, March 17, 2023, Montana’s governor signed legislation to ban the Chinese-owned platform from operating in the state, making it the first US state to ban TikTok completely.
Strengthening European infrastructure and presence
TikTok’s data center locations span various markets, including Northern Virginia and Hillsboro, Oregon in the US; Dublin, Ireland; and Singapore and Johor, Malaysia in Asia, among others. The company’s European expansion is a strategic move aimed at enhancing user experience, complying with local regulations, and solidifying its position in the European market. The short video app continues to gain interest in Europe. As reported by TikTok in 2023, over 150 million European users come to its platform every month. To follow this high demand, TikTok decided to increase its data center footprint, and this time its focus is on Europe.
One significant development in TikTok’s European expansion strategy is the plan to build a second data center in Ireland. This move comes as TikTok recognizes the importance of Ireland’s status as a technology hub and aims to cater to its growing user base in the region. The establishment of a new data center in Ireland not only demonstrates TikTok’s commitment to local users but also highlights its intent to bolster its European operations with reliable and efficient infrastructure.
Another key aspect of TikTok’s European expansion lies in its partnership with Green Mountain, a prominent data center provider based near Hamar in Norway. Green Mountain will construct a dedicated data center facility with a capacity ranging from 90 to 150MW exclusively for TikTok. This collaboration enables TikTok to leverage Norway’s renewable energy capabilities, ensuring sustainable and environmentally friendly data center operations. By selecting Green Mountain, TikTok emphasizes its commitment to reliable and energy-efficient infrastructure, which is crucial in meeting the increasing demand for its services in Europe.
Persistent calls to ban TikTok
Despite TikTok’s recent efforts to enhance privacy and data protection through its expansion of data center infrastructure, discussions around banning the app persist. Privacy concerns and doubts about the platform’s data-handling practices have fueled these calls, reflecting wider apprehensions about potential national security risks. The establishment of new European data centers, while a positive step toward addressing privacy concerns, has not fully alleviated the skepticism surrounding TikTok.
Critics argue that the mere presence of data centers in Europe does not guarantee comprehensive privacy protection or eliminate potential risks associated with TikTok’s data practices. Privacy advocacy groups and policymakers emphasize the need for more robust safeguards and increased transparency from the platform. They highlight issues such as data collection practices, storage, and access, as well as concerns regarding potential data sharing with foreign entities.
Moreover, geopolitical tensions and evolving regulatory landscapes contribute to the calls for banning TikTok. Governments and policymakers worldwide have raised concerns about the platform’s data practices, prompting investigations and imposing regulatory scrutiny. The potential for misuse or unauthorized access to user data, combined with the perception of foreign influence, has heightened apprehensions about TikTok’s continued operation.
In response to these persistent calls, TikTok must take active measures to address privacy concerns and rebuild trust among users and stakeholders. Proactive engagement with privacy advocates, collaboration with regulatory bodies, and implementation of stringent privacy controls can help alleviate concerns and show a commitment to user privacy and data protection. By demonstrating transparency and implementing robust privacy measures, TikTok can work toward allaying concerns and solidifying its position as a trusted platform for its millions of users.
TikTok’s data center expansion initiatives showcase a proactive approach to addressing privacy concerns and complying with regulations. However, continuous conversations around the ban indicate that the establishment of new European data centers alone may not alleviate privacy concerns entirely. The platform needs to engage in transparent practices and robust privacy safeguards to regain trust and reduce concerns surrounding data protection. While the new European data centers are a step in the right direction, TikTok must continue to prioritize user privacy, maintain transparency, and engage in dialogue with stakeholders to foster a more secure and trustworthy environment for its users. Looking at all the conversations, some may think that the only way TikTok can have a long-term future in the West is if it is sold to a western company, including its operations and technology.
Dominika Koncewicz, Senior Analyst, Cloud and Data Center Research Practice