View from
The Center

What Is TikTok? Here Are the Basics

Image via Vox

People are turning to the popular app TikTok for a new social media experience. The question on the minds of many today is, what exactly is it and who is the owner?

By now, most of us have heard of the popular new social media app, TikTok. Originally adopted by middle and high schoolers, the app has become almost as ubiquitous as Snapchat or Instagram and is quickly gaining steam among older generations. What makes the app special in today’s social media landscape is not only its uniquely viral video sharing capabilities, but also its country of origin and associated privacy questions.

Read below for more background on what TikTok is and whom the owner is.

What Is Tik Tok?

According to its own website, TikTok describes itself as:

“…the leading destination for short-form mobile video. Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.”

In practice, anyone with the app installed, available on both iOS and Android, is able to record brief videos of themselves doing something amusing or entertaining against music playing in the background. When not recording videos—which is not required, by the way—users of the app are shown videos that the algorithm powering the app thinks he or she may find entertaining.

If a given video isn’t enough to hold your attention, you can simply slide up and a new video is shown. Over time based on your viewership history, the algorithm is able to determine with increasing accuracy what kinds of videos you will find the most entertaining. It is this predictive power of the app, some analysts suggest, that makes the app particularly addicting.

Who Is Behind the App Tik Tok?

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese internet company that bills itself as the “world’s most valuable startup.” Headquartered in Beijing, the company was founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, a software engineer in his mid-30s who had previous work experience at Microsoft. ByteDance’s first major success came in the form of Touitao, a news aggregator and article sharing tool today used by hundreds of millions of Chinese. TikTok was launched four years later under the name Douyin, becoming an instant hit among young people in China.

Today, TikTok has conquered Western markets and has become one of the most widely used social media apps alongside Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Ownership Concerns

Most social media apps and other consumer technology products we use are either owned by a U.S.-based company or by another western country, such as the UK or Sweden. Should we be concerned that this company is based in China, an authoritarian country that has shown to-date little to no concern for user privacy or the very concept of individual rights?

This question is on the minds of many today when sharing personal information and video footage on the app. According to a  class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in California, TikTok is accused of having secretly:

“…vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data that can be employed to identify, profile and track the location and activities of users in the United States now and in the future.”

Whether or not the claims made in the lawsuit are accurate is still under investigation. However, the federal government has already decided that while the app can be used by individual citizens, the U.S. has already taken steps to curtail its use among certain government personnel, such as soldiers in the Army. Further legislation in the Senate has been proposed to ban all government employees from using the app.

Whether or not you should stop using TikTok is a question beyond the scope of this journal. However, below is a list of helpful articles from a variety of viewpoints that can guide you in your decision.

“The Department of Defense Is Warning People Not to Use TikTok Over National Security Concerns”
– Inc.

“TikTok national security problem: Don’t ignore the lessons of 2016”
The Hill

“TikTok to Stop Using China-Based Moderators to Monitor Overseas Content”
The Wall Street Journal

Whether or not TikTok survives both U.S. lawmaker and consumer scrutiny, it is best to stay alert with all of our apps where personal information is shared, even U.S.-based ones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.