TikTok launched internationally in September 2017. Musical.ly, a popular social app in the U.S., was bought by its parent company, ByteDance, for $1 billion in November 2017, and in August 2018, the two were merged. In just a few years, it made a user base of nearly 92 million in the U.S. In particular, this app is used by teens and young adults. According to an October 2020 report by “Piper Sandler,” TikTok has surpassed Instagram in the U.S. It is the 2nd favorite social media app for teens.
Last year, then-President Donald Trump sought to ban TikTok in the U.S. or force a merger with a U.S. company. The Trump administration expressed national security concerns over the apps Chinese’s ownership. According to the government, “feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party.” But the social media app denied those claims saying, “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.” In the last four semi-annual transparency reports of the company, there is no single request from the Chinese government for user data.
TikTok earlier in June caught a break when President Joe Biden signed an executive order that revoked Trump’s order to ban the app unless it found a U.S. buyer. Joe’s order sets criteria for the government to evaluate the risk of apps connected to foreign adversaries.
As per the former employees of TikTok, the boundaries between ByteDance and TikTok are so almost non-existent. As per one employee, ByteDance employees can access U.S. user data. An American employee working with Tik Tok needed to get a list of global users, including Americans who searched for interacting with a specific type of content. To access the information, the employed had to reach the data team in China. The data the employee received was the user’s specific ids and whatever information Tik Tok had about the users they could pull. A 2nd employee confirms that such an incident was a common occurrence.