UK officials gave 'strictly confidential' ambassador info to TikTok

Trade wars with the United States have rattled TikTok. Now it seeks reassurance from the United Kingdom.

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Internal documents received and reviewed by Business Insider show that TikTok was made aware of a "strictly confidential" detail concerning the United Kingdom's new China ambassador. The information, which conventionally remains limited to a highly selective group of people within the government, was provided in the form of a message in a 22-emails-long correspondence between the government and TikTok representatives between June 22 and 23.

The original report indicates that Business Insider made the request through a Freedom of Information Act application. In the correspondence, United Kingdom government officials "reassured" the short video clip platform that its network would not meet official interventions like those hitting Chinese tech companies such as Huawei. In one email, TikTok was given the reassurance that such a block was "envisaged as being rare." The email also offered to build correspondence between TikTok and "any relevant officials in BEIS [the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] who worked on the paper if needed."

TikTok's status in the United Kingdom — TikTok's popularity in the United Kingdom is impossible to ignore. According to a September report in 2020, TikTok boasted at least 3.7 million active users in the United Kingdom, it was the seventh most used app in the world at the time, and the average daily time spent on the network is about 41 minutes. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and political uncertainties over its future in the United Kingdom, TikTok witnessed massive growth in the country.

During Donald Trump's administration, TikTok's owner, ByteDance, was under severe pressure as the government's anti-China trade war grew more intense and hostile. In July, as the BBC reported, ByteDance had announced its plans to potentially move its headquarters to the United Kingdom. The company reassured the government that ByteDance was "fully committed to investing in London" and in response to that claim, a spokesperson for the Department for International Trade noted that "ByteDance's decision on the location of their global HQ is a commercial decision for the company."

The "flurry" of 22 emails, as the Business Insider puts it, is proof of how both entities — TikTok and United Kingdom officials — are trying their best not to become ensnared in a tit-for-tat economic war under the pressure of the United States. It may not seem entirely ethical or even fair but when you're caught in the crosshairs of a trade war raised by the United States, any "confidential" information from the other side is useful information.