Who owns TikTok? Chinese-owned ByteDance files lawsuit against US government ban

TikTok has faced bans or restrictions in several countries for various reasons, including concerns about data privacy, national security, and content moderation (Pexels)
TikTok has faced bans or restrictions in several countries for various reasons, including concerns about data privacy, national security, and content moderation (Pexels)

TikTok has filed a lawsuit to try and block the US government’s law that would either ban the video-sharing app or force its parent company ByteDance to sell it.

The Senate’s ruling on April 23 gives the Chinese-owned business one year to sell its stake or face deletion from American application stores.

Joe Biden signed off the law as part of a package that also included sending foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel.

The law states that ByteDance must sell off its US-based operations by January 19, with a three-month extension possible if a sale is in progress.

TikTok has 170 million users in the US and has said that the law is an "extraordinary intrusion on free speech rights”, the BBC has stated. This, they say, would compromise the First Amendment of the US constitution.

And making the changes within the timeframe is not “commercially, not technologically, [and] not legally” possible, Al Jazeera has quoted.

The full statement reads: “For the first time in history, Congress has enacted a law that subjects a single, named speech platform to a permanent, nationwide ban, and bars every American from participating in a unique online community with more than one billion people worldwide.

“There is no question: the Act will force a shutdown of TikTok by January 19, 2025, silencing the 170 million Americans who use the platform to communicate in ways that cannot be replicated elsewhere.”

Here’s everything we know about the app’s parent company.

Who owns TikTok?

The popular video-sharing app is technically owned by a Beijing-based company called ByteDance. This Chinese internet technology company, founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, has created several platforms estimated to host 1.9 billion active monthly users.

ByteDance developed various video apps before launching TikTok to international markets in 2017.

Despite ByteDance's founders holding a controlling stake, they only own 20 per cent of TikTok, with 60 per cent owned by institutional investors (including organisations in the US), and the remaining 20 per cent owned by employees.

The company's headquarters are in Los Angeles and Singapore, with three out of five TikTok board members from the United States. While ByteDance is the parent company, TikTok is led by Singaporean CEO Shou Zi Chew.

Who else has accused TikTok of exposing personal data?

Previously, Conservative MP Alicia Kearns has warned Brits against using the app, deeming it unsafe. She said the platform exposed users’ 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.

“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 it would ever hand users’ personal information to others.

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

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

The lawsuit accused ByteDance of taking TikTok users’ content without their permission. The plaintiff explained how the company had used her biometric data 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 settled the lawsuit by paying $92 million (£74m) in February 2021.

TikTok has faced bans or restrictions in several countries for various reasons, including concerns about data privacy, national security, and content moderation. Some of the countries where TikTok has been banned or faced significant restrictions include:

  • India: In June 2020, India banned TikTok and several other Chinese-owned apps citing national security concerns amid border tensions between India and China. Before the ban, India was TikTok’s largest international market, with over 200 million users.

  • Indonesia: In July 2018, Indonesia temporarily banned TikTok, citing concerns about inappropriate content and possible negative impacts on children and adolescents. The ban was later lifted with conditions imposed on content moderation.

  • Pakistan: In October 2020, Pakistan banned TikTok over concerns about "immoral and indecent" content. The ban was lifted after TikTok assured the government it would implement better content moderation measures.

  • Bangladesh: In February 2019, Bangladesh temporarily banned TikTok, citing concerns about the spread of inappropriate content. The ban was lifted later that month after TikTok agreed to regulate its content better.

What personal data can TikTok access?

TikTok collects various personal data from its users, which may include:

  • User account information: This includes username, email address, phone number, and password.

  • Profile information: Users can provide additional information on their profiles, such as age, gender, location, and profile picture.

  • Content data: TikTok collects information about the content users create, share, or interact with on the platform, including videos, comments, likes, shares, and messages.

  • Device information: TikTok may collect data about the devices used to access the platform, including device type, operating system, hardware model, and unique device identifiers.

  • Location data: TikTok may collect information about the user's location, through GPS data or inferred from the IP address or other device sensors.

  • Usage data: This includes information about how users interact with the app, such as the videos they watch, the duration of their sessions, and their engagement with other users.

  • Contacts: TikTok may access a user's contacts if they upload these to the app — or grant permission for TikTok to access their contacts for features including friend suggestions or address book synchronisation.

It's important to note that the specific data collected by TikTok may vary depending on factors such as user settings, permissions granted, and applicable laws and regulations.

TikTok's privacy policy outlines the types of data collected, how it is used, and the options available to users to manage their privacy settings and control their data.

Users should review the privacy policy and make informed decisions about using the platform and the data they share.