Who owns TikTok? Chinese government links to Bytedance explained - what has Biden administration said?

TikTok’s links to the Chinese government is under the microscope as Western officials ban the app from government phones

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Attention has turned to social media site TikTok after the announcement that the UK government has banned the app on mobile phones used by government staff.

The UK made the move to ban the app on government phones after similar bans were brought in by the European Commission and more than half of US states. The UK ban has been introduced with “immediate effect” on Thursday 16 March.

TikTok is one of the most popular apps in the world, with a reported user base of more than one billion people. However, Western officials have raised concerns over the app’s connections to the Chinese government and possible surveillance methods.

But what links does TikTok have to the Chinese government? And what have Western officials said about it?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Who owns TikTok?

The immensely populat social media app is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. It is an international version of the Chinese app Douyin, with the company owning both iterations of the video-sharing platform.

TikTok has been banned on UK government mobile phones. (Credit: Getty Images)TikTok has been banned on UK government mobile phones. (Credit: Getty Images)
TikTok has been banned on UK government mobile phones. (Credit: Getty Images)

TikTok was launched in 2017 in most markets outside of mainland China as an alternative app to the Douyin platform. However, it wasn’t available worldwide until 2018.

The origins of TikTok also came around after ByteDance, which is now worth more than $30billion, purchased the app Musical.ly for almost $1billion in 2017. The Musical.ly platform was eventually merged with TikTok, with accounts on the Musical.ly app being converted into TikTok accounts in August 2018.

What links do ByteDance have to the Chinese government?

ByteDance as a company do not appear to have direct links to the Chinese government. However, legislation in China is what lawmakers across the world is concerned about.

As a Chinese-run company, ByteDance is subject to laws and rules introduced by President Xi Jinping’s government. One of these rules requires any company to hand over its data to the government upon request without exception.

ByteDance holds data on more than one billion TikTok users across the world. The company has also been criticised for some of its data collection methods and security around data in the past.

TikTok gathers data about users concerning things like name and date of birth, as well as voice and face imprints from audio and video. It is the combination between the vast amounts of data TikTok holds and gathers as well as the potential for surveillance from the Chinese government that has concerned officials in the West.

What has the Biden administration said about ByteDance?

Amid the national security concerns, the US has inisted that the app is sold to a company outside of China. President Biden’s administration made the demand of ByteDance, adding that the app risked being banned in the US if the move is not taken.

Concerns from Biden’s administration follows attempts by predecessor Donald Trump’s attempt to ban the app altogether in the US. The move by the former president was blocked by the federal courts.

While the Biden administration is looking to force a sale of the app to a company in the West, the process may not be simple. The sale of TikTok would require the approval of the Chinese government, and with frosty relations between China and the US, it is unlikely that it would be sold to an American-based company.

The demand is also likely to be met with legal action from TikTok. Spokesmwan for the company Brooke Oberwetter said: “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”

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