President Donald Trump has warned that he will ban TikTok unless an American firm buys its US operations. So how did an app attract millions of users but come to be seen as a national security risk in just two years?
Posted in December 2018, it quickly racked up millions of views on the app but – more importantly – was picked up by thousands of copycats on other social networks.
The world was alerted to the app and TikTok has since attracted a vibrant, creative and young audience of hundreds of millions.
TikTok’s secret lies in its use of music and an extraordinarily powerful algorithm, which learns what content users like to see far faster than many other apps. Users can choose from a huge database of songs, filters and movie clips to lipsync to.
Many people will spend most of the time on the For You Page. This is where the algorithm puts content in front of users, anticipating what they will enjoy based on content they have already engaged with.
It’s also where it shows content it thinks could go viral. The idea is that if the content is good it will travel, regardless of how many followers the creator has.
The app’s rapid growth has also put TikTok at the forefront of the minds of politicians. What does it mean to have a Chinese app so quickly become a large part of modern life?
Although the accusations are vague, India and the US have concerns that TikTok is collecting sensitive data from users that could be used by the Chinese government for spying. It has been alleged that every major Chinese enterprise has an internal “cell” answerable to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, with many of its agents tasked with gathering secrets.
India initially banned TikTok in April 2019, after a court ordered its removal from app stores amid claims it was being used to spread pornography. That decision was overturned on appeal.
When it banned TikTok again, along with dozens of other Chinese owned apps in June 2020, the Indian government said it had received complaints about apps “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data”.
The US government opened a national security review of the platform in late 2019, after both a Democrat and a Republican lawmaker suggested it posed a risk.
Yet the discussions taking place with Microsoft about the possibility of buying TikTok’s US operations show it is one of the most significant technology products in years.
Downloads of shortform video app competitors Byte and Triller have spiked in the US as users prepare themselves for jumping ship.
But many, it seems, will hang on to TikTok until the very last moment – if that moment comes.
Source: BBC News