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Overview[]

TikTok is a globally popular video-sharing smartphone application (app) owned by ByteDance Ltd., a privately held company headquartered in Beijing, China. It is under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. government as a potential privacy and security risk to U.S. citizens. This is because ByteDance, like all technology companies doing business in China, is subject to Chinese laws that require companies operating in the country to turn over user data when asked by the government. Researchers differ over how TikTok data collection compares with other social media apps and whether TikTok poses a threat to the privacy and security of its U.S. users.

TikTok launched in the United States in August 2018. The app is available in over 155 countries in 39 languages and has approximately 800 million monthly active users. In the United States, the app has approximately 49 million monthly active users. TikTok's appeal lies heavily on what has been called its "addictive" video feed, For You. The app builds this feed through a "recommendation engine" algorithm built on artificial intelligence technologies and data mining practices. According to the company, the recommendation engine relies on a complex set of weighted factors to recommend content, including hashtags and videos watched previously, as well as the kind of device a person is using.

TikTok critics cite problems with how much data TikTok collects from and about its users and with how that data is stored — and could be shared.

On August 6 and August 14, 2020, President Trump signed Executive Orders aimed at stopping U.S. persons and entities from doing business with ByteDance and requiring ByteDance to divest from any holding used to support the operation of TikTok in the United States.

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