TikTok (Chinese: 抖音; Dǒuyīn) is a Chinese video-sharingsocial networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming. It is used to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. The app was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android in markets outside of China. ByteDance first launched Douyin for the China market in September 2016. It became available in the United States after merging with musical.ly on August 2, 2018. TikTok and Douyin are similar to each other and essentially the same app, however they run on separate servers to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions. The application allows users to create short music and lip-sync videos of 3 to 15 seconds and short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds. The app is popular in Asia, the United States, and other parts of the world. TikTok is available in China as Douyin; its servers are based in countries where the app is available.
After merging with musical.ly in August, downloads rose and TikTok became the most downloaded app in the US in October 2018, the first Chinese app to achieve this. As of 2018, it was available in over 150 markets and in 75 languages. In February 2019, TikTok, together with Douyin, hit one billion downloads globally, excluding Android installs in China. In 2019, TikTok was declared the 7th most downloaded mobile app of the decade, from 2010 to 2019. It was also declared the #1 most downloaded app on the App Store in 2018 and 2019.
Douyin was launched by ByteDance in China in September 2016, originally under the name A.me, before rebranding to Douyin in December 2016. Douyin was developed in 200 days and within a year had 100 million users, with more than one billion videos viewed every day. TikTok was launched in the international market in September 2017. On 23 January 2018, the TikTok app ranked No. 1 among free app downloads on app stores in Thailand and other countries.
TikTok has been downloaded about 80 million times in the United States, and 800 million times worldwide, according to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower that excludes Android users in China. Many celebrities including Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk began using the application in 2018.
On September 3, 2019, TikTok and the US National Football League (NFL) announced a multi-year partnership. The partnership includes the launch of an official NFL account that will bring NFL content to fans all over the world.
On 9 November 2017, TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, spent up to $1 billion to purchase musical.ly, a startup based in Shanghai with an office in Santa Monica, California. Musical.ly was a social media video platform that allowed users to create short lip-sync and comedy videos. Its official release was in August 2014. Looking forward to leveraging the US digital platform's young user base, TikTok merged with musical.ly on August 2, 2018 to create a larger video community, with existing accounts and data consolidated into one app, keeping the title TikTok. This ended musical.ly and made TikTok a world-wide app, excluding China.
Expansion in other markets
As of 2018, TikTok has been made available in over 150 markets, and in 75 languages. TikTok was downloaded more than 104 million times on Apple's App store during the full first half of 2018, according to data provided to CNBC by Sensor Tower. It surpassed Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to become the world's most downloaded iOS app.
As a separate app from TikTok, Douyin is available from the developer's website. Part of its popularity is attributable to its marketing campaigns, launching several activities with Chinese celebrities to engage their fans' interest. For example, its marketing campaign in 2018 Spring Festival Gala alone brought an increase of 70 million daily active users. In February 2018, Douyin launched a partnership with Modern Sky to monetize music.
The TikTok mobile app allows users to create a short video of themselves which often feature music in the background, can be sped up, slowed down or edited with a filter. To create a music video with the app, users can choose background music from a wide variety of music genres, edit with a filter and record a 15-second video with speed adjustments before uploading it to share with others on TikTok or other social platforms. They can also film short lip-sync videos to popular songs.
The app's "react" feature allows users to film their reaction to a specific video, over which it is placed in a small window that is movable around the screen. Its "duet" feature allows users to film a video aside another video. The “duet” feature was another trademark of Musical.ly.
The app allows users to set their accounts as "private." Private content remains visible to TikTok, but is blocked from TikTok users who the account holder has not authorized to view their content. Users can choose whether any other user, or only their "friends", may interact with them through the app via comments, messages, or "react" or "duet" videos. Users also can set specific videos to either “public”, “friends only”, or “private” regardless if the account is private or not.
The “for you” page on TikTok is a feed of videos that are recommended to users based on their activity on the app. Content is generated by TikTok depending on what kind of content a user liked, interacted with, or searched. Users can only be featured on the “for you” page if they are 16 or over as per TikTok policy. Users under 16 will not show up under the “for you” page, the sounds page, or under any hashtags.
Users can also add videos, hashtags, filters, and sounds to their “saved” section. This section is visible only to the user on their profile allowing them to refer back to any video, hashtag, filter, or sound they've previously saved.
TikTok employs artificial intelligence to analyze users' interests and preferences through their interactions with the content, and display a personalized content feed for each user.
In the three years after it launched on September 2016, TikTok acquired 500 million active users.
In the United States, 52% of TikTok users are iPhone users. While TikTok has a neutral gender-bias format, 44% of TikTok users are female while 56% are male. TikTok's geographical use has shown that 43% of new users are from India. TikTok has proven to attract the younger generation, as 41% of its users are between the ages of 16 and 24. Among these TikTok users, 90% say they use the app on a daily basis.
TikTok's user engagement rate is 29%. As of July 2018, TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes a day on the app. ByteDance has stated that U.S. users open the app eight times a day and individual sessions on the app are the longest at 4.9 minutes.
There are a variety of trends within TikTok, including memes, lip-synced songs, and comedy videos. Duets, a feature that allows users to add their own video to an existing video with the original content's audio, have sparked most of these trends.
Trends are shown on TikTok's explore page or the page with the search logo. The page enlists the trending hashtags and challenges among the app. Some include #posechallenge, #filterswitch, #makeeverysecondcount, #wannalisten, #pillowchallenge, #furrywar, #hitormiss, #bottlecapchallenge and more.
In June 2019, the company introduced the hash tag #EduTok which received 37 billion views. Following this development the company initiated partnerships with Edtech start ups to create educational content on the platform.
The most well-known viral TikTok meme in the Western world of 2018 is "hit or miss", from a snippet of iLOVEFRiDAY's "Mia Khalifa" (2018), which has been used in over four million TikTok videos, and helped introduce TikTok to a larger Western audience.
TikTok became the world's most downloaded app on Apple's App Store in the first half of 2018 with an estimated 104 million downloads in that time. Studies have shown that in just one year, short videos in China have gone up by 94.79 million.
Privacy, cyberbullying and addiction concerns
Similar to other platforms, journalists in several countries have raised privacy concerns about the app, because it is popular with children and has the potential to be used by sexual predators.
Several users have reported endemic cyberbullying on TikTok, including racism. In December 2019, following a report by German digital rights group Netzpolitik.org, TikTok admitted that it had suppressed videos by disabled users as well as LGBTQ users in a purported effort to limit cyberbullying.
In addition, some users may find it hard to stop using TikTok. In April 2018, an addiction-reduction feature was added to Douyin. This encouraged users to take a break every 90 minutes. Later in 2018, the feature was rolled out to the TikTok app.
In January 2020, Check Point Research discovered a security flaw in TikTok which could have allowed hackers access to user accounts using SMS.
In November 2019, it was reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States opened an investigation into ByteDance's acquisition of Musical.ly. The same month, following a request by Senator Chuck Schumer, U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy agreed to assess the risks of using TikTok as a recruitment tool. Senator Josh Hawley introduced the National Security and Personal Data Protection Act to prohibit TikTok's parent company and others from transferring personal data of Americans to China. In December 2019, the United States Navy as well as the U.S. Army banned TikTok from all government-issued devices. The Transportation Security Administration also prohibited its personnel from posting on the platform for outreach purposes. Following its prohibition by the U.S. military, the Australian Defence Force also banned TikTok on its devices. Legislation was subsequently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would prohibit all federal employees from using or downloading TikTok.
On 3 July 2018, TikTok was banned in Indonesia, after the Indonesian government accused it of promulgating "pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy." Shortly afterwards, TikTok pledged to task 20 staff with censoring TikTok content in Indonesia, and the ban was lifted on 11 July 2018.
In November 2018, the Bangladeshi government blocked the TikTok app's internet access.
Also in 2018, Douyin was reprimanded by Chinese media watchdogs for showing "unacceptable" content, such as videos depicting adolescent pregnancies.
In February 2019, several Indian politicians called for TikTok to be banned or more tightly regulated, after concerns emerged about sexually explicit content, cyberbullying, and deepfakes.
In countries where LGBT discrimination is the socio-political norm, TikTok moderators have blocked content that could be perceived as being positive towards LGBT people or LGBT rights, including same-sex couples holding hands, including in countries where homosexuality has never been illegal Former U.S. employees of TikTok reported to The Washington Post that final decisions to remove content were made by parent company employees in Beijing.
In response to censorship concerns, TikTok's parent company hired K&L Gates, including former Congressmen Bart Gordon and Jeff Denham, to advise it on its content moderation policies. TikTok also hired lobbying firm Monument Advocacy.
On 27 November 2019, TikTok temporarily suspended the account of 17-year-old Afghan-American user Feroza Aziz after she posted a video, disguised as a makeup tutorial, drawing attention to the internment camps of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China. TikTok later claimed that her account was suspended as a result of human error, and her account has since been reinstated.
In March 2020, internal documents leaked to The Intercept revealed that moderators had been instructed to suppress posts created by users deemed "too ugly, poor, or disabled" for the platform, and to censor political speech in livestreams, punishing those who harmed “national honor" or broadcast streams about "state organs such as police" with bans from the platform.
In April 2020, it's reported that Douyin suspended users who speak Cantonese on its livestreaming platform. In a statement, Bytedance said Douyin is “building out content safety capabilities” and that Cantonese is not “fully supported.” But Bytedance did not explain why.
Indonesia temporarily blocked the TikTok app on 3 July 2018 amid public concern about illegal content such as pornography and blasphemy. The app was unblocked one week later after making various changes, including removing negative content, opening a government liaison office, and implementing age restrictions as well as security mechanisms.
Tencent's WeChat platform has been accused of blocking Douyin's videos. In April 2018, Douyin sued Tencent and accused it of spreading false and damaging information on its WeChat platform, demanding CNY one million in compensation and an apology. In June 2018, Tencent filed a lawsuit against Toutiao and Douyin in a Beijing court, alleging they had repeatedly defamed Tencent with negative news and damaged its reputation, seeking a nominal sum of CNY 1 in compensation and a public apology. In response, Toutiao filed a complaint the following day against Tencent for allegedly unfair competition and asking for CNY 90 million in economic losses.
US COPPA fines
On 27 February 2019, the United States Federal Trade Commission fined ByteDance US $5.7 million for collecting information from minors under the age of 13 in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. ByteDance responded by adding a kids-only mode to TikTok which blocks the upload of videos, the building of user profiles, direct messaging, and commenting on other's videos, while still allowing the viewing and recording of content.
Brief ban in India
On 3 April 2019, the Madras High Court while hearing a PIL had asked the Government of India to ban the app, citing that it "encourages pornography". The court also noted that children using the app were at risk of being targeted by sexual predators. The court further asked broadcast media not to telecast any of those videos from the app. The spokesperson for TikTok stated that they were abiding by local laws and were awaiting the copy of the court order before they take action. On 17 April, both Google and Apple removed TikTok from Google Play and the App Store. As the court refused to reconsider the ban, the company stated that they had removed over 6 million videos that violated their content policy and guidelines.
On 25 April 2019, the ban was lifted after a court in Tamil Nadu reversed its order of prohibiting downloads of the app from the App Store and Google Play, following a plea from TikTok developer Bytedance Technology. India's TikTok ban might have cost the app 15 million new users.
Data transfer class action lawsuit
In November 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed in California that alleged that TikTok transferred personally-identifiable information of U.S. persons to servers located in China owned by Tencent and Alibaba.
Deaths caused by TikTok
According to the "TikTok Death tracker" website, as of 4 March 2020 there have been at least 41 documented deaths of TikTok users, including 35 in India alone, while making TikTok videos.