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Who owns TikTok? Brits are warned against using the app

A Conservative MP has said TikTok users are at risk of their  data being exposed to hostile entities  (Pexels)
A Conservative MP has said TikTok users are at risk of their data being exposed to hostile entities (Pexels)

TikTok has become an undeniable cultural phenomenon in recent years, with over one billion users across the globe.

However, Conservative MP Alicia Kearns has warned Brits against using the app, deeming it to be unsafe. She said the video-sharing platform was exposing users’ personal data to “hostile” threats, especially the Chinese government.

“It is not worth having that vulnerability on your phone. It is the ultimate data source for anyone with hostile efforts,” Ms Kearns told Sky News.

She added: “Our data is a key vulnerability and China is building a tech totalitarian state on the back of our data. So we have to get far more serious about protecting ourselves.”

TikTok has denied that it would ever hand users’ personal information over to others.

However, it is known that TikTok’s parent company has used TikTok data to track several Western journalists and find their sources.

But, who owns TikTok? Here’s everything we know about the app’s parent company.

Who owns TikTok?

The popular video-sharing app is owned by a Beijing-based company called ByteDance. The Chinese internet technology company was founded in 2012 and has created a number of platforms, which are thought to host 1.9 billion active users every month.

ByteDance’s first creation was a platform called Neihan Duanzi, which stands for “profound gags”. It was a platform for jokes, memes and funny videos.

Later, in 2012, it also launched a news platform called Toutiao, meaning “headlines”.

TikTok lets users view and share videos across hundreds of categories (Pexels)
TikTok lets users view and share videos across hundreds of categories (Pexels)

In 2016, the company expanded, hiring Microsoft Research Asia’s former managing director Wei-Ying Ma to head its AI laboratory.

Its era of acquiring smaller apps and companies with potential began with Indonesia’s news platform BABE. Shortly after, it bought Flipgram and The merging of these two platforms led to the birth of TikTok.

TikTok’s journey began as, before becoming Douyin in 2016, an app targeting the Chinese market that attracted over a billion video views on a daily basis.

That same app was released in the international market as TikTok in September 2017 and speedily worked its way up app stores and pop culture trends.

Who else has accused TikTok of exposing personal data?

In November 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed in California, which claimed that TikTok transferred personally identifiable information of US users to servers that were owned by Chinese tech conglomerates Tencent and Alibaba.

The lawsuit accused ByteDance of taking TikTok users’ content without their permission. The plaintiff of the case shared how her biometric data had been used by the company to create an account in her name on TikTok.

In July 2020, 20 other lawsuits of the same nature came forward and were merged into one class action lawsuit in Illinois.

TikTok decided to settle the lawsuit by paying $92 million (£77 million) in February 2021.

The US government has openly communicated its stance against the platform and the foreign affairs committee is due to vote on whether the app should be banned in the country later this month.

TikTok hopes to avoid the ban and, in January 2023, offered to share details with US officials of how its recommended algorithms work .

TikTok is banned in India, alongside a number of other Chinese apps, as the nation believes it threatens its national security and defence.

Before the ban, India was TikTok’s largest international market, with over 200 million users.

What personal data can TikTok access?

Apart from the personal data users choose to provide to create their account and profile, TikTok can figure out their IP address, and what other apps they have on their phone.

While it cannot learn about your geolocation without your permission, the app has a habit of repeatedly asking to know your location even after you reject it.

The app is able to learn a lot from what you watch, when and where you watch it, and who you interact with. It uses this sort of personal data to customise your algorithm.