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Who owns TikTok?

The video-sharing app has become a massive social network.

tiktok logo with blurred smartphone in the background
Image: KnowTechie

Quick Answer: TikTok is owned by the Chinese-based tech company, ByteDance. ByteDance is based in Beijing, China, but the company has offices worldwide.

TikTok has blown up into one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. The platform launched in 2016 and already has more than a billion monthly users.

TikTok took the world by storm with its innovative platform based on short-form videos and an algorithm that feeds users what they want to see.

Since the start of its rise to popularity, TikTok has spawned several clones. Things like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts were designed directly after TikTok’s successful model.

But who owns TikTok? Is it another product from the major tech companies that we all know? Or did TikTok come from somewhere else? Let’s just dive into it.

So, who owns TikTok?

Short answer: ByteDance

TikTok is owned by the Chinese-based tech company, ByteDance. ByteDance is based in Beijing, China, but the company has offices worldwide.

ByteDance was founded back in 2012 by software engineer Zhang Yiming. The company launched several apps using big data algorithms to deliver curated content to its readers.

bytedance logo on blurred background
Image: KnowTechie

The company launched its original app in August 2012. The app, called Toutiat (“headlines”), organized news stories using algorithms based on users’ preferences.

The company later acquired Flipagram and Musical.ly and merged the two to create TikTok. Yiming acted as ByteDance’s CEO until 2021 when co-founder Liang Rubo took over as head of the company.

Is ByteDance selling TikTok?

Short answer: No, not that we know of.

When former President Donald Trump was in office, he was an outspoken critic of TikTok and its China-based ownership.

The former president called for ByteDance to sell TikTok, or he would ban the app in the United States. ByteDance was in talks to sell TikTok to Microsoft shortly after Trump threatened a ban.

However, the Trump administration eventually lost interest in TikTok, and the concern over who owns TikTok seems to have lessened.

trump bans tiktok
Image: KnowTechie

After President Joe Biden took over, his administration scrapped Trump’s TikTok ban plans. However, the administration committed to completing its own investigation.

The results of the investigation from the Biden administration have yet to come to light. So there still could be potential for a forced sale of the platform.

But that doesn’t stop other lawmakers from sticking their noses in someone’s business.

After Biden’s investigation, other officials at the highest level of government in the United States have threatened to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

For now, TikTok is still owned and controlled by ByteDance. But it seems like the future is still very much up in the air.

TikTok continues to thrive

Ultimately, TikTok is crushing it, and its owner ByteDance is reaping the rewards. Even though some people are worried about its ownership, it isn’t keeping many of them from using the platform.

And with the company threatening Google Search, we don’t see TikTok going anywhere for a long time.

Does the Chinese government have access to TikTok?

TikTok has consistently stated that it stores data for non-Chinese users outside of China in an attempt to insulate that data from Chinese law. However, some concerns remain given the Chinese government’s broad authority over companies within its jurisdiction.

For example, Former ByteDance employee Yintao “Roger” Yu alleges that the Chinese Communist Party maintains access to all TikTok user data, even for non-Chinese users. ByteDance has strongly refuted these claims, which are part of a larger ongoing wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Yu in May 2023.

Does TikTok store data in the US

Yes, currently, they do. To address worries about data privacy, TikTok has changed where it stores information about its US users. Instead of using its own data centers in Virginia and Singapore, the company now keeps this data on Oracle servers. This change is meant to better protect user data from unauthorized access.

However, copies of the data from US TikTok users are still kept on TikTok’s own servers in Virginia and Singapore. These copies will be deleted at some point as TikTok continues to move everything over to Oracle, but TikTok hasn’t said when this will happen.

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Kevin is KnowTechie's founder and executive editor. With over 15 years of blogging experience in the tech industry, Kevin has transformed what was once a passion project into a full-blown tech news publication. Shoot him an email at kevin@knowtechie.com or find him on Mastodon or Post.

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