Jul 21, 2020 - Technology

Exclusive: Under fire from Washington, TikTok pledges U.S. job growth

Illustration of a briefcase icon in the style of the TikTok logo. 
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok tells Axios it plans to add thousands of jobs in the U.S. over the next few years — ripping a familiar page from the "companies under fire" playbook.

The big picture: Chinese-owned TikTok is working to distance itself from Beijing in the face of a threatened ban from the Trump administration and broader scrutiny out of Washington, where policymakers are looking to blunt China's influence and economic might.

Driving the news: TikTok plans to add 10,000 jobs in the U.S. in the next three years as user growth explodes, spokesperson Josh Gartner told Axios.

  • TikTok's U.S. job growth has already nearly tripled this year, going from almost 500 employees Jan. 1 to just under 1,400.
  • The company plans to hire for jobs in engineering, sales, content moderation and customer service, with a focus on growing workforces in California, New York, Texas, Florida and Tennessee, Gartner said.
  • "It’s supporting the tremendous growth in the country and follows our strategy of building out teams where we have users," Gartner told Axios.

Between the lines: TikTok's ongoing hiring spree also includes the addition of more than 35 lobbyists meant to convince the Trump administration and lawmakers of the company's independence from China, according to a New York Times report.

  • The company also plans to open transparency centers in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to allow outsiders to observe its content-moderation process.

Context: U.S. policymakers are suspicious about the privacy practices and potential Chinese government ties of TikTok's Beijing-based parent company ByteDance.

  • TikTok doesn't operate in China, where ByteDance instead maintains a near-identical app called Douyin. TikTok says it doesn't share user data with China or even store any there.
  • There's no evidence to date contradicting those claims, but China hawks in Congress and the Trump administration remain skeptical, given the expansive powers Beijing has asserted over companies that do business in China.
  • The House on Monday approved an amendment to a must-pass defense bill banning federal employees from downloading TikTok on government-issued devices, while the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will vote Wednesday on similar legislation from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).

The big picture: TikTok's hiring plans follow the playbook of other tech companies highlighting their role as job creators and investors in local economies.

  • Google, facing antirust investigations at the federal and state level, pledged a $10 billion investment in expanding its footprint across the country earlier this year.
  • Apple in 2018 announced plans to build a $1 billion new campus in Austin, Texas, while also setting up new offices in several cities.
  • Amazon's competition for its second headquarters saw dozens of cities vying to be the tech giant's choice.

Yes, but: Job promises don't always pan out. Just ask the folks in Wisconsin still waiting for the job postings from that big Foxconn factory.

Go deeper: TikTok caught in a U.S.-China vise

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