Since June 2020, Kevin Mayer is CEO of TikTok and COO of parent company ByteDance. Previously, he was chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International. On August 3, 2020, US President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the United States on September 15 if negotiations for the company to be bought by Microsoft or a different "very American" company fail. On August 6, Trump signed two executive orders banning US "transactions" with TikTok and WeChat to its parent company, ByteDance, set to take effect 45 days after the signing. It has been banned by the government of India since June 2020 along with other Chinese apps in response to a border clash with China.
ByteDance Ltd., the Chinese company owning and operating TikTok
Douyin was launched by ByteDance in China in September 2016, originally under the name A.me, before rebranding to Douyin in December 2016. ByteDance planned on Douyin expanding overseas. The founder of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, stated that "China is home to only one-fifth of Internet users globally. If we don’t expand on a global scale, we are bound to lose to peers eyeing the four-fifths. So, going global is a must." Douyin was developed in 200 days and within a year had 100 million users, with more than one billion videos viewed every day. TikTok was launched in the international market in September 2017. On 23 January 2018, the TikTok app ranked No. 1 among free app downloads on app stores in Thailand and other countries.
TikTok has been downloaded more than 80 million times in the United States, and has reached 2 billion downloads worldwide, according to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower that excludes Android users in China. Many celebrities including Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk began using the application in 2018. Other celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Will Smith, and Justin Bieber joined TikTok as well and many other celebrities have followed.
On 3 September 2019, TikTok and the US National Football League (NFL) announced a multi-year partnership. The agreement occurred just two days before the NFL's 100th season kick-off at the Soldier stadium, where TikTok hosted activities for fans in honor of the deal. The partnership entails the launch of an official NFL TikTok account which is to bring about new marketing opportunities such as sponsored videos and hashtag challenges.
On 9 November 2017, TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, spent up to $1 billion to purchase musical.ly, a startup based in Shanghai with an office in Santa Monica, California. Musical.ly was a social media video platform that allowed users to create short lip-sync and comedy videos, initially released in August 2014. It was well known, especially to the younger audience. Looking forward to leveraging the US digital platform's young user base, TikTok merged with musical.ly on August 2, 2018 to create a larger video community, with existing accounts and data consolidated into one app, keeping the title TikTok. This ended musical.ly and made TikTok a world-wide app, excluding China, since China has Douyin.
Expansion in other markets
As of 2018, TikTok has been made available in over 150 markets, and in 75 languages. TikTok was downloaded more than 104 million times on Apple's App store during the full first half of 2018, according to data provided to CNBC by Sensor Tower.
After merging with musical.ly in August, downloads rose and TikTok became the most downloaded app in the US in October 2018, which musical.ly had done once before. In February 2019, TikTok, together with Douyin, hit one billion downloads globally, excluding Android installs in China. In 2019, media outlets cited TikTok as the 7th-most-downloaded mobile app of the decade, from 2010 to 2019. It was also the most-downloaded app on Apple's App Store in 2018 and 2019, surpassing Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
As a separate app from TikTok, Douyin is available from the developer's website. The app can only be downloaded in China and has a slightly older audience than TikTok, as their user base ranges from children to middle-aged adults. The app uses two different types of verification, an influencer personal verification similar to that of TikTok and a business verification requiring a licence and yearly fee. Business verified users can promote to a specific audience, which allows them to choose where they want their video to be seen, such as a specific physical location. Douyin also has its own store, in which users can tag and advertise their products, and users can request to work with an influencer for brand deals. Part of the app's popularity has been attributed to its marketing campaigns that launched several activities with Chinese celebrities to engage their fans' interest.
Features and trends
The TikTok mobile app allows users to create a short video of themselves which often feature music in the background, can be sped up, slowed down or edited with a filter. They can also add their own sound on top of the background music. To create a music video with the app, users can choose background music from a wide variety of music genres, edit with a filter and record a 15-second video with speed adjustments before uploading it to share with others on TikTok or other social platforms. They can also film short lip-sync videos to popular songs.
The app's "react" feature allows users to film their reaction to a specific video, over which it is placed in a small window that is movable around the screen. Its "duet" feature allows users to film a video aside another video. The “duet” feature was another trademark of Musical.ly.
Videos that users do not want to post yet can be stored in their "drafts". The user is allowed to see their "drafts" and post when they find it fitting.
The app allows users to set their accounts as "private." When first downloading the app, the user's account is public by default. The user can change to private in their settings. Private content remains visible to TikTok, but is blocked from TikTok users who the account holder has not authorized to view their content. Users can choose whether any other user, or only their "friends", may interact with them through the app via comments, messages, or "react" or "duet" videos. Users also can set specific videos to either “public”, “friends only”, or “private” regardless if the account is private or not.
Users are also allowed to report accounts depending on the account's content either being spam or inappropriate. In TikTok's support center under "For Parents", they reassure the parents that inappropriate content for their children can be blocked and reported.
The “For You” page on TikTok is a feed of videos that are recommended to users based on their activity on the app. Content is generated by TikTok's artificial intelligence (AI) depending on what kind of content a user liked, interacted with, or searched. Users can also choose to add to favorites or select "not interested" on videos in their for you page. TikTok combines the user's enjoyed content to provide videos that they would also enjoy. Users and their content can only be featured on the “for you” page if they are 16 or over as per TikTok policy. Users under 16 will not show up under the “for you” page, the sounds page, or under any hashtags.
When users follow other users, a "following" page is located on the left of the "for you" page. This is a page to only see the videos from the accounts a user follows.
Users can also add videos, hashtags, filters, and sounds to their “saved” section. When creating a video, they can refer to their saved section, or create a video straight from it. This section is visible only to the user on their profile allowing them to refer back to any video, hashtag, filter, or sound they've previously saved.
Users can also send their friends videos, emojis, and messages with direct messaging.
TikTok has also included a feature to create a video based on the user's comments.
Influencers often use the "live" feature. This feature is only available for those who have at least 1,000 followers and are over 16 years old. If over 18, the user's followers can send virtual "gifts" that can be later exchanged for money.
One of the newest features as of 2020 is the "Virtual Items" of "Small Gestures" feature. This is based on China's big practice of social gifting. Since this feature was added, many beauty companies and brands created a TikTok account to participate and advertise this feature. With quarantine in the United States, social gifting has grown in popularity. According to a TikTok representative, the campaign was launched as a result of the lockdown, “to build a sense of support and encouragement with the TikTok community during these tough times.”
TikTok announced a "family safety mode" in February 2020 for parents to be able to control their children's digital well being. There is a screen time management option, restricted mode, and can put a limit on direct messages.
TikTok employs artificial intelligence to analyze users' interests and preferences through their interactions with the content, and display a personalized content feed for each user. TikTok has an algorithm in which they process the user's preferences based on the videos they "like", comment on, and also how long they watch the video. Compared to other consumer algorithms such as YouTube and Netflix with a list of recommended videos, TikTok interprets the user's individual preferences and provides content that they would enjoy.[failed verification][better source needed]
There are a variety of trends within TikTok, including memes, lip-synced songs, and comedy videos. Duets, a feature that allows users to add their own video to an existing video with the original content's audio, have sparked most of these trends.
Trends are shown on TikTok's explore page or the page with the search logo. The page enlists the trending hashtags and challenges among the app. Some include #posechallenge, #filterswitch, #dontjudgemechallenge, #homedecor, #hitormiss, #bottlecapchallenge and more. In June 2019, the company introduced the hashtag #EduTok which received 37 billion views. Following this development, the company initiated partnerships with edtech startups to create educational content on the platform.
TikTok has allowed bands to get notoriety in places all around the globe. The band Fitz and The Tantrums has developed a large following in South Korea despite never having toured in Asia. "Any Song" by R&B and rap artist Zico became number 1 on the Korean music charts due to the popularity of the #anysongchallenge, where users dance the choreography of "Any Song". The song was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 17 weeks, breaking the record for the longest time a song was number 1 on the charts. After his song "Old Town Road" went viral on the app, Lil Nas X received a record deal and the song rose to the top of the Billboard charts. The platform has received some criticism for its lack of royalties towards artists whose music is used on their platform. There is controversy over whether or not this type of promotion is beneficial in the long run for artists since it seems to play as a "one-hit wonder".
TikTok has banned holocaust denial, but other conspiracy theories have become popular on the platform, such as Pizzagate and QAnon (two conspiracy theories popular among the US alt-right) whose hashtags reached almost 80 million views and 50 million views respectively by June 2020. The platform has also been used to spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, such as clips from the Plandemic video. TikTok removed some of these videos, and has generally added links to accurate COVID-19 information on videos with tags related to the pandemic.
In the United States, 52% of TikTok users are iPhone users. While TikTok has a neutral gender-bias format, 44% of TikTok users are female while 56% are male. TikTok's geographical use has shown that 43% of new users are from India. TikTok has proven to attract the younger generation, as 41% of its users are between the ages of 16 and 24. Among these TikTok users, 90% say they use the app on a daily basis. As of May 2020, there are 30 million monthly active users in the United States alone.
Some users may find it hard to stop using TikTok. In April 2018, an addiction-reduction feature was added to Douyin. This encouraged users to take a break every 90 minutes. Later in 2018, the feature was rolled out to the TikTok app. TikTok uses some of the top influencers such as Gabe Erwin, Alan Chikin Chow, James Henry, and Cosette Rinab to encourage viewers to stop using the app and take a break.
Many were also concerned with users' attention spans with these videos. Users watch short 15-second clips repeatedly and studies say that this could report to a decrease in attention span. This is a concern as many of TikTok's audience are younger children, whose brains are still developing.
On 27 July 2020, Egypt sentenced five women to two years in prison over TikTok videos on charges of violating public morals. The court also imposed a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds (£14,600) on each defendant.
As with other platforms, journalists in several countries have raised privacy concerns about the app, because it is popular with children and has the potential to be used by sexual predators.
Several users have reported endemic cyberbullying on TikTok, including racism. In December 2019, following a report by German digital rights group Netzpolitik.org, TikTok admitted that it had suppressed videos by disabled users as well as LGBTQ+ users in a purported effort to limit cyberbullying. TikTok moderators were also told to suppress users with "abnormal body shape", "ugly facial looks", "too many wrinkles", or in "slums, rural fields" and "dilapidated housing" to prevent bullying.
In January 2020, Check Point Research discovered a security flaw in TikTok which could have allowed hackers access to user accounts using SMS. In February, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman criticised the app, calling it "spyware," and stating "I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it's always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone." Responding to Huffman's comments, TikTok stated "These are baseless accusations made without a shred of evidence."Wells Fargo banned the app from its devices due to privacy and security concerns.
On 27 February 2019, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined ByteDance US $5.7 million for collecting information from minors under the age of 13 in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. ByteDance responded by adding a kids-only mode to TikTok which blocks the upload of videos, the building of user profiles, direct messaging, and commenting on others' videos, while still allowing the viewing and recording of content. In May 2020, an advocacy group filed a complaint with the FTC claiming that TikTok had violated the terms of the February 2019 consent decree, which sparked subsequent Congressional calls for a renewed FTC investigation. In July 2020, it was reported that the FTC and the United States Department of Justice had initiated investigations.
UK Information Commissioner's Office investigation
In February 2019, the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner's Office launched an investigation of TikTok following the fine ByteDance received from the United States Federal Trade Commission. Speaking to a parliamentary committee, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that the investigation focuses on the issues of private data collection, the kind of videos collected and shared by children online, as well as the platform's open messaging system which allows any adult to message any child. She noted that the company was potentially violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which requires the company to provide different services and different protections for children.
National security concerns
2019 provisional ban
On 3 April 2019, the Madras High Court while hearing a PIL had asked the Government of India to ban the app, citing that it "encourages pornography" and shows "inappropriate content". The court also noted that children and minors using the app were at risk of being targeted by sexual predators. The court further asked broadcast media not to telecast any of those videos from the app. The spokesperson for TikTok stated that they were abiding by local laws and were awaiting the copy of the court order before they take action. On 17 April, both Google and Apple removed TikTok from Google Play and the App Store. As the court refused to reconsider the ban, the company stated that they had removed over 6 million videos that violated their content policy and guidelines.
On 25 April 2019, the ban was lifted after the Madras High Court reversed its order, following a plea from TikTok developer Bytedance Technology. India's TikTok ban might have cost the app 15 million new users.
The Indian government said the decision to ban the apps was to protect the data and privacy of its 1.3 billion citizens and put a stop to technology that was "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorised manner to servers outside India". It was also later reported that TikTok's parent company Bytedance faced a loss of $6 billion due to this ban.
In November 2019, it was reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States opened an investigation into ByteDance's acquisition of Musical.ly. The same month, following a request by Senator Chuck Schumer, U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy agreed to assess the risks of using TikTok as a recruitment tool. Senator Josh Hawley introduced the National Security and Personal Data Protection Act to prohibit TikTok's parent company and others from transferring personal data of Americans to China. Senator Josh Hawley also introduced a bill to ban downloading and using TikTok on government devices because of national security concerns. In December 2019, the United States Navy as well as the U.S. Army banned TikTok from all government-issued devices. The Transportation Security Administration also prohibited its personnel from posting on the platform for outreach purposes. Following its prohibition by the U.S. military, the Australian Defence Force also banned TikTok on its devices. Legislation was subsequently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would prohibit all federal employees from using or downloading TikTok.
The New York Times reported that CIA analysts have determined that while it is possible the Chinese government could obtain user information from the app, there is no evidence it has done so.
Executive order to ban TikTok
On July 7, 2020, U.S. Secretary of StateMike Pompeo announced that the government was considering banning TikTok. In response, experts suggested that Trump's proposed TikTok ban may threaten free speech and "set a very problematic precedent" for banning apps in the United States. Tech experts, some of whom conducted reverse engineering of the app's data collection specifications, could not adequately verify the claims that user data collected by TikTok was being used or collected by the Government of China; many noted that the amount of collected data was similar to that collected by American-originated social media platforms and, in particular, was comparatively less than that collected by Facebook.
On July 31, 2020, PresidentDonald Trump announced a decision ordering China's ByteDance to divest ownership of the application, and has threatened to shut down its U.S. operations through executive action as soon as August 1 if the company does not comply. While the President has authority to intervene in transactions involving foreign companies doing business in the United States (including placing companies on an "entity list" that restricts a company's ability to conduct business with American companies), Trump did not specify how he would enforce a ban. Microsoft was reported to be in talks of acquiring the company. Later that day, President Trump announced plans to ban TikTok in the United States, and signaled opposition to any sale to a U.S.-based company.
Trump's ban threat and his indication he would oppose any sale to an American buyer was widely condemned by TikTok users, many of whom asserted that national security concerns were being used as a cover by the administration to justify a ban as retaliation for pranks aimed at Trump by TikTok users (particularly, a ticket-purchasing effort to inflate projected and depress actual attendance of his June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma) and other content satirizing Trump or critical of him and his actions, especially in relation to his response to the George Floyd protests. Some have speculated that a ban or the threat thereof would result in political backlash, pushing many users (including those eligible to vote for the first time) to vote against Trump, likely in favor of Democratic nominee Joe Biden, in the 2020 presidential election.
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On August 1, ByteDance—which initially sought to maintain a minority interest in a sale to a U.S. buyer—agreed to divest TikTok outright to prevent a ban in the United States and in other countries (including Japan, Pakistan and Australia) where restrictions are also being considered because of privacy concerns primarily related to its ownership by a China-based firm. A preliminary deal to sell the platform to Microsoft was submitted to President Trump for review, in which Microsoft would also assume data management responsibilities; preliminary terms allowed American investors in the platform to eventually acquire minority stakes in TikTok post-sale. South CarolinaSen.Lindsey Graham later expressed support for the Microsoft proposal. In a video statement posted on TikTok that morning, Manager of U.S. Operations Vanessa Pappas stated that the company is "not planning on going anywhere" and is "building the safest app because we know it's the right thing to do." On August 2, it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that Microsoft paused talks with ByteDance. Later that day, Microsoft confirmed that talks would continue following a conversation between CEO Satya Nadella and President Trump. Reportedly after White House advisers persuaded him to hold off on banning TikTok outright because of the possible legal and political repercussions involved, Trump subsequently agreed to put a 45-day hold on any action against TikTok to allow ByteDance to divest the platform to Microsoft or, should a deal with the tech company not materialize, another American corporation. On August 6, Trump signed an executive order banning the platform in 45 days if it is not sold by Bytedance; Trump also signed a similar order against the WeChat application owned by the Chinese multinational company Tencent. On August 14, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new executive order giving ByteDance 90 days to sell or spin off its U.S. TikTok business. In the order, President Donald Trump said that there is “credible evidence” that leads him to believe that ByteDance “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” 
TikTok is banned completely in India, and has been intermittently blocked in countries including Indonesia and Bangladesh on different bases.
On 3 July 2018, TikTok was temporarily banned in Indonesia after the Indonesian government accused it of promulgating "pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy." Shortly afterwards, TikTok pledged to task 20 staff with censoring TikTok content in Indonesia, and the ban was lifted 8 days later.
In November 2018, the Bangladeshi government blocked the TikTok app's Internet access, even though TikTok had no connection to the reason for ban, which was pornography and gambling.
Also in 2018, Douyin was reprimanded by Chinese media watchdogs for showing "unacceptable" content, such as videos depicting adolescent pregnancies.
In February 2019, several Indian politicians called for TikTok to be banned or more tightly regulated, after concerns emerged about sexually explicit content, cyberbullying, and deepfakes. They called it a "cultural degeneration".
In countries where LGBT discrimination is the socio-political norm, TikTok moderators have blocked content that could be perceived as being positive towards LGBT people or LGBT rights, including same-sex couples holding hands, including in countries where homosexuality has never been illegal. Former U.S. employees of TikTok reported to The Washington Post that final decisions to remove content were made by parent company employees in Beijing.
In response to censorship concerns, TikTok's parent company hired K&L Gates, including former Congressmen Bart Gordon and Jeff Denham, to advise it on its content moderation policies. TikTok also hired lobbying firm Monument Advocacy.
After Donald Trump proposed to ban TikTok in the U.S on July 31 2020, security researchers have expressed their concern about limitations of freedom. In one article, PCMag quoted Jennifer Granick of the American Civil Liberties Union Surveillance and Cybersecurity Counsel who claimed that "banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a danger to free expression and is technologically impractical."
In October 2019, TikTok removed about two dozen accounts that were responsible of posting ISIS propaganda on the app.
On 27 November 2019, TikTok temporarily suspended the account of 17-year-old Afghan-American user Feroza Aziz after she posted a video, disguised as a makeup tutorial, drawing attention to the internment camps of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China. TikTok later apologized and claimed that her account was suspended as a result of human error, and her account has since been reinstated. In July 2020, TikTok suspended the account of another user whose viral video called attention to human rights of the Uyghurs.
In January 2020, Media Matters for America claimed that TikTok hosted misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic despite a recent policy against misinformation. In April 2020, the government of India asked TikTok to remove users posting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also multiple conspiracy theories that the government is involved with the spread of the pandemic. As a response to this, TikTok launched a feature to report content for misinformation.
In March 2020, internal documents leaked to The Intercept revealed that moderators had been instructed to suppress posts created by users deemed "too ugly, poor, or disabled" for the platform, and to censor political speech in livestreams, punishing those who harmed "national honor" or broadcast streams about "state organs such as police" with bans from the platform. In June 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that some previously non-political TikTok users were airing pro-Beijing views for the explicit purpose of boosting subscribers and avoiding "shadow" bans. In July 2020, the company announced it was pulling out of Hong Kong in response to the Hong Kong national security law.
Tencent's WeChat platform has been accused of blocking Douyin's videos. In April 2018, Douyin sued Tencent and accused it of spreading false and damaging information on its WeChat platform, demanding 1.0 million CNY in compensation and an apology. In June 2018, Tencent filed a lawsuit against Toutiao and Douyin in a Beijing court, alleging they had repeatedly defamed Tencent with negative news and damaged its reputation, seeking a nominal sum of CNY 1 in compensation and a public apology. In response, Toutiao filed a complaint the following day against Tencent for allegedly unfair competition and asking for CNY 90 million in economic losses.
Data transfer class action lawsuit
In November 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed in California that alleged that TikTok transferred personally-identifiable information of U.S. persons to servers located in China owned by Tencent and Alibaba. The lawsuit also accused ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, of taking user content without their permission. The plaintiff of the lawsuit, college student Misty Hong, downloaded the app but claimed she never created an account. She realized a few months later that TikTok has created an account for her using her information (such as biometric) and made a summary of her information. The lawsuit also alleged that information was sent to Chinese tech giant Baidu. In July 2020, twenty lawsuits against TikTok were merged into a single class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.