TikTok, known in China as Douyin (Chinese: ; pinyin: D?uy?n), is a video-sharing focused social networking service owned by Chinese company ByteDance. The social media platform is used to make a variety of short-form videos, from genres like dance, comedy, and education, that have a duration from fifteen seconds to three minutes. TikTok is an international version of Douyin, which was originally released in the Chinese market in September 2016. Later, TikTok was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android in most markets outside of mainland China; however, it only became available worldwide after merging with another Chinese social media service, Musical.ly, on 2 August 2018.
TikTok and Douyin have almost the same user interface but no access to each other's content. Their servers are each based in the market where the respective app is available. The two products are similar, but features are not identical. Douyin includes an in-video search feature that can search by people's face for more videos of them and other features such as buying, booking hotels and making geo-tagged reviews. Since its launch in 2016, TikTok/Douyin rapidly gained popularity in East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the United States, Turkey, Russia, and other parts of the world. As of October 2020, TikTok surpassed over 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide.
Vanessa Pappas is the CEO of TikTok, having assumed the position following the resignation of Kevin A. Mayer on 27 August 2020. On 3 August 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the United States on 15 September if negotiations for the company to be bought by Microsoft or a different "very American" company failed. On 6 August, Trump signed two executive orders banning U.S. "transactions" with TikTok and WeChat to its respective parent companies ByteDance and Tencent, set to take effect 45 days after the signing. A planned ban of the app on 20 September 2020 was postponed by a week and then blocked by a federal judge. President Biden revoked the ban in a new executive order in June 2021. The app has been banned by the government of India since June 2020 along with 223 other Chinese apps in response to a border clash with China. Pakistan banned TikTok citing "immoral" and "indecent" videos on 9 October 2020 but reversed its ban ten days later on 19 October 2020. Then in March 2021, a Pakistani court ordered a new TikTok ban due to complaints over "indecent" content.
Morning Consult ranked TikTok as the third fastest growing brand of 2020, after only Zoom and Peacock. In May 2021, TikTok appointed Shou Zi Chew as their new CEO.
ByteDance Ltd., the Chinese company owning and operating TikTok
Douyin was launched by ByteDance in Beijing, China in September 2016, originally under the name A.me, before rebranding to Douyin () in December 2016. ByteDance planned on Douyin expanding overseas. The founder of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, stated that "China is home to only one-fifth of Internet users globally. If we don't expand on a global scale, we are bound to lose to peers eyeing the four-fifths. So, going global is a must." 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 more than 130 million times in the United States, and has reached 2 billion downloads worldwide, according to data from mobile research firm Sensor Tower that excludes Android users in China. In the United States, many celebrities including Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk began using the application in 2018; other celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Will Smith, and Justin Bieber joined TikTok as well and many other celebrities have followed.
On 3 September 2019, TikTok and the U.S. National Football League (NFL) announced a multi-year partnership. The agreement occurred just two days before the NFL's 100th season kick-off at the Soldier Field, where TikTok hosted activities for fans in honor of the deal. The partnership entails the launch of an official NFL TikTok account, which is to bring about new marketing opportunities such as sponsored videos and hashtag challenges. In July 2020, TikTok, excluding Douyin, reported close to 800 million monthly active users worldwide after less than four years of existence.
On 9 November 2017, TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, spent up to U.S.$1 billion to purchase musical.ly, a startup headquartered in Shanghai with an overseas office in Santa Monica, California, U.S.. Musical.ly was a social media video platform that allowed users to create short lip-sync and comedy videos, initially released in August 2014. It was well known, especially to the younger audience. Looking forward to leveraging the U.S. digital platform's young user base, TikTok merged with musical.ly on 2 August 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 worldwide app, excluding China, since China already has Douyin.
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.
After merging with musical.ly in August, downloads increased and TikTok became the most downloaded app in the U.S. in October 2018, which musical.ly had done once before. In February 2019, TikTok, together with Douyin, hit one billion downloads globally, excluding Android installs in China. In 2019, media outlets cited TikTok as the 7th-most-downloaded mobile app of the decade, from 2010 to 2019. It was also the most-downloaded app on Apple's App Store in 2018 and 2019, surpassing Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. In September 2020, a deal was confirmed between ByteDance and Oracle in which the latter will serve as a partner to provide cloud hosting.Walmart intends to invest in TikTok. This deal would stall in 2021 as newly elected President Biden's Justice Department put a hold on the previous U.S. ban under President Trump. In November 2020, TikTok signed a licensing deal with Sony Music. In December 2020, Warner Music Group signed a licensing deal with TikTok.
As a separate app from TikTok, Douyin (), officially known as D?uy?n du?n shìpín (; lit. Douyin Short Video), is primarily downloaded in China and has a slightly older audience than TikTok, as their user base ranges from children to middle-aged adults. The app uses two different types of verification, an influencer personal verification similar to that of TikTok and a business verification requiring a license and yearly fee. Business verified users could promote to a specific audience, which allows them to choose where they want their video to be seen, such as a specific physical location. Douyin also has its store, in which users can tag and advertise their products, and users can request to work with an influencer for brand deals. Part of the app's popularity has been attributed to its marketing campaigns that launched several Chinese celebrities' activities to engage their fans' interest.
Features and trends
The TikTok mobile app allows users to create short videos, which often feature music in the background and can be sped up, slowed down, or edited with a filter. They can also add their own sound on top of the background music. 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 "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's artificial intelligence (AI) depending on the content a user liked, interacted with, or searched. Users can also choose to add to favorites or select "not interested" on videos for their page. TikTok combines the user's enjoyed content to provide videos that they would also enjoy. Users and their content 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.
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.
Videos that users do not want to post yet can be stored in their "drafts". The user is allowed to see their "drafts" and post when they find it fitting.
The app allows users to set their accounts as "private." When first downloading the app, the user's account is public by default. The user can change to private in their settings. 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.
Users are also allowed to report accounts depending on the account's content, either being spam or inappropriate. In TikTok's support center under "For Parents," they reassure the parents that inappropriate content for their children can be blocked and reported.
When users follow other users, a "following" page is located on the left of the "for you" page. This is a page only to see the videos from the accounts a user follows.
Users can also add videos, hashtags, filters, and sounds to their "saved" section. When creating a video, they can refer to their saved section, or create a video straight from it. This section is visible only to the user on their profile allowing them to refer to any video, hashtag, filter, or sound they've previously saved.
Users can also send their friends videos, emojis, and messages with direct messaging.
TikTok has also included a feature to create a video based on the user's comments.
Influencers often use the "live" feature. This feature is only available for those who have at least 1,000 followers and are over 16 years old. If over 18, the user's followers can send virtual "gifts" that can be later exchanged for money.
One of the newest features as of 2020 is the "Virtual Items" of "Small Gestures" feature. This is based on China's big practice of social gifting. Since this feature was added, many beauty companies and brands created a TikTok account to participate and advertise this feature. With quarantine in the United States, social gifting has grown in popularity. According to a TikTok representative, the campaign was launched as a result of the lockdown, "to build a sense of support and encouragement with the TikTok community during these tough times."
TikTok announced a "family safety mode" in February 2020 for parents to be able to control their children's digital well-being. There is a screen time management option, restricted mode, and can put a limit on direct messages.
A variety of trends have risen 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 many 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, #dontjudgemechallenge, #homedecor, #hitormiss, #bottlecapchallenge and more. In June 2019, the company introduced the hashtag #EduTok which received 37 billion views. Following this development, the company initiated partnerships with edtech startups to create educational content on the platform.
One notable TikTok trend is the "hit or miss" meme, which begain from a snippet of iLOVEFRiDAY's song "Mia Khalifa." The song has been used in over four million TikTok videos and helped introduce the app to a larger Western audience. TikTok also played a major part in making "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X one of the biggest songs of 2019 and the longest running number-one song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100.
TikTok has allowed many other bands to gain a wider audience, often including foreign fans. For example, despite never having toured in Asia, the band Fitz and the Tantrums developed a large following in South Korea following the widespread popularity of their song "HandClap" on the platform. "Any Song" by R&B and rap artist Zico became number 1 on the Korean music charts due to the popularity of the #anysongchallenge, where users dance the choreography of "Any Song". "Any Song" was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 17 weeks, breaking the record for the longest time a song was number 1 on the charts. The platform has received some criticism for not paying royalties to artists whose music is used on their platform. In 2020, more than 176 different songs surpassed 1 billion video views on TikTok.
TikTok has banned Holocaust denial, but other conspiracy theories have become popular on the platform, such as Pizzagate and QAnon (two conspiracy theories popular among the U.S. alt-right) whose hashtags reached almost 80 million views and 50 million views respectively by June 2020. The platform has also been used to spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, such as clips from Plandemic. TikTok removed some of these videos, and has generally added links to accurate COVID-19 information on videos with tags related to the pandemic.
Several food trends have emerged on the platform, such as Dalgona coffee.
TikTok has provided a platform for users to create content not only for fun, but also for money. As the platform has grown significantly over the past few years, it has allowed companies to advertise and rapidly reach their intended demographic through influencer marketing. The platform's AI algorithm also contributes to the influencer marketing potential, as it picks out content according to the user's preference. Sponsored content is not as prevalent on the platform as it is on other social media apps, but brands and influencers still can make as much as they would if not more in comparison to other platforms. Influencers on the platform who earn money through engagement, such as likes and comments, are referred to as "meme machines".
In 2021, The New York Times reported that viral TikTok videos by young people relating the emotional impact of books on them, tagged with the label "BookTok", significantly drove sales of literature. Publishers were increasingly using the platform as a venue for influencer marketing.
Globally, 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 tends to appeal to younger users, as 41% of its users are between the ages of 16 and 24. Among these TikTok users, 90% say they use the app daily. As of July 2020, there were over 90 million monthly active users in the United States alone.
Use by businesses
In October 2020, the ecommerce platform Shopify added TikTok to its portfolio of social media platforms, allowing online merchants to sell their products directly to consumers on TikTok.
Some small businesses have used TikTok to advertise and to reach an audience wider than the geographical region they would normally serve. The viral response to many small business TikTok videos has been attributed to TikTok's algorithm, which shows content that viewers at large are drawn to, but which they are unlikely to actively search for (such as videos on unconventional types of businesses, like beekeeping and logging).
In 2020, digital media companies such as Group Nine Media and Global used TikTok increasingly, focusing on tactics such as brokering partnerships with TikTok influencers and developing branded content campaigns. Notable collaborations between larger brands and top TikTok influencers have included Chipotle's partnership with David Dobrik in May 2019 and Dunkin' Donuts' partnership with Charli D'Amelio in September 2020.
Popular TikTok users have lived collectively in collab houses, predominately in the Los Angeles area.
Country bans and attempted bans
In April 2020, TikTok officially cooperated with mainland China's Internet censorship mechanism and began to prohibit the use of overseas versions of Douyin in mainland China. Different from general blockade, TikTok adopted an IP lock zone, mainly for mainland China; Hong Kong and Macau were not affected. The direct consequence of the lock zone is that Chinese users cannot log in to TikTok using a VPN. Officials have also restricted the numbers of China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. The phone numbers of the above three cannot log in to TikTok. Even so, there are a large number of cracked versions of TikTok on the Chinese Internet. The cracked version of TikTok can watch videos normally, but the phone number restriction has not been cracked and users cannot log in.
In January 2021, the Great Firewall of China's blocking measures on TikTok were further upgraded, and the monitoring of the cracked version of TikTok was increased, and measures such as node blocking and IP blocking were adopted to interfere with the normal watching of videos by mainland users: that is, users watch normally, but after a few videos, the video cannot be refreshed, and you need to re-enter the software before you can continue watching.
The official website www.tiktok.com of the overseas version of TikTok is currently blocked by the Great Firewall, and the Chinese language of the official website of the overseas version only provides Traditional Chinese, as officially used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, instead of Simplified Chinese.
TikTok was banned completely in India by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on 29 June 2020, along with 223 other Chinese apps, with a statement saying they were "prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of state and public order". The ban was made permanent in January 2021. In February 2021, TikTok announced that due to the ban it will cut more than 2,000 jobs in India.
On 14 August 2020, Trump issued order DCPD-202000608 giving ByteDance 90 days to sell or spin off its U.S. TikTok business. In the order, Trump said that there is "credible evidence" that leads him to believe that ByteDance "might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States."
TikTok considered selling the American portion of its business, and held talks with companies including Microsoft, Walmart, and Oracle.
On September 18, TikTok filed a lawsuit, TikTok v. Trump. On 23 September 2020, TikTok filed a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the app from being banned by the Trump administration. U.S. judge Carl J. Nichols temporarily blocked the Trump administration order that would effectively ban TikTok from being downloaded in U.S. app stores starting midnight on 27 September 2020. Nichols allowed the app to remain available in the U.S. app stores, but declined to block the additional Commerce Department restrictions that could have a larger impact on TikTok's operations in the U.S. These restrictions were set to take place 12 November 2020.
Three TikTok influencers filed a lawsuit, Marland v. Trump. On October 30, Pennsylvania judge Wendy Beetlestone ruled against the Commerce Department, blocking them from restricting TikTok. On November 12, the Commerce Department stated that it would obey the Pennsylvania ruling and that it would not try to enforce the restrictions against TikTok that had been scheduled for November 12.
In June 2021, President Biden signed an executive order revoking the Trump administration ban on TikTok, and instead ordered the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the app to determine if it poses a threat to U.S. national security.
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. TikTok uses some top influencers such as Gabe Erwin, Alan Chikin Chow, James Henry, and Cosette Rinab to encourage viewers to stop using the app and take a break.
Many were also concerned with users' attention spans with these videos. Users watch short 15-second clips repeatedly and studies say that this could report to a decrease in attention span. This is a concern as many of TikTok's audience are younger children, whose brains are still developing.
Many countries showed concerns regarding the content of TikTok which is thought to be obscene, immoral, vulgar and encouraging of pornography. There have been temporary blocks and warnings issued by countries including Indonesia,Bangladesh,India, and Pakistan over the content concerns. In 2018, Douyin was reprimanded by Chinese media watchdogs for showing "unacceptable" content, such as videos depicting adolescent pregnancies.
On 27 July 2020, Egypt sentenced five women to two years in prison over TikTok videos on charges of violating public morals. The court also imposed a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds (UK£14,600) on each defendant.
Concerns have been voiced regarding content relating to, and the promotion of spreading hateful words and far-right extremism, such as anti-semitism, racism and xenophobia. Some videos were shown to expressly deny the existence of the Holocaust and for its viewers to take up arms and fight in the name of white supremacy and the swastika. As TikTok has gained popularity among young children and the popularity of extremist and hateful content is growing, calls for tighter restrictions on their flexible boundaries have been made. TikTok have since released tougher parental controls to filter out inappropriate content and to ensure they are protection and security.
Slowly turning into a hub of influencer marketing, Abu Dhabi (UAE) partnered with TikTok to promote its tourism, in April 2021. Under the channel name "Visit Abu Dhabi", the Emirate aimed to engage with influencers who would showcase only the best of it to a worldwide audience. It came following the January 2021 winter campaign, initiated through a partnership between the UAE Government Media Office partnered and TikTok to promote the country's tourism. However, on the other side, the content creators in the country remained restricted. Under article 28 of Cyber-Crime Law, the UAE prohibits every person from publishing media content that violates its public image or poses a threat to its state security and to its highest interests. Many are often arrested or face charges for posting any photos or videos that are not in accordance with the country's image-building strategy.
In January 2020, Media Matters for America said that TikTok hosted misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic despite a recent policy against misinformation. In April 2020, the government of India asked TikTok to remove users posting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also multiple conspiracy theories that the government is involved with the spread of the pandemic. As a response to this, TikTok launched a feature to report content for misinformation.
Content censorship and moderation by the platform
According to Mar Hicks, creators on TikTok feel that they have to be overly cautious about what they post, "because the rules change at any given moment, there's no transparency," Hicks says. The sudden disappearance of tags, intentional or not, has "incredibly problematic effects and negative effects on communities that are already marginalized and erased."
The muddiness around content removal and moderation on TikTok is an ongoing frustration for the app's users. TikTok has community guidelines, but there's no public list of specific words and phrases that are banned, and it's not clear how much moderation is done algorithmically versus by actual people.
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 response to censorship concerns, TikTok's parent company hired K&L Gates, including former U.S. Congressmen Bart Gordon and Jeff Denham, to advise it on its content moderation policies. TikTok also hired lobbying firm Monument Advocacy.
In January 2021, TikTok banned Trump content deemed to be inciting violence.
Human rights in China
In January 2019, the Chinese government said that it would start to hold app developers like ByteDance responsible for user content shared via apps such as Douyin, and listed 100 types of content that the Chinese government would censor. It was reported that certain content unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party has already been limited for users outside of China such as content related to the 2019-20 Hong Kong protests or Tibetan independence. TikTok has blocked videos about human rights in China, particularly those that reference Xinjiang internment camps and abuses of ethnic and religious minorities such as the Uyghurs, and disabled the accounts of users who post them. TikTok's policies also ban content related to a specific list of foreign leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and Mahatma Gandhi because it can stir controversy and attacks on political views. Its policies also ban content critical of Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and content considered pro-Kurdish. TikTok was reported to have censored users supportive of the Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India and those who promote Hindu-Muslim unity. 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 apologized and said that her account was suspended as a result of human error, and her account has since been reinstated. In July 2020, TikTok suspended the account of another user whose viral video called attention to human rights of the Uyghurs.
In June 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that some previously non-political TikTok users were airing pro-Beijing views for the explicit purpose of boosting subscribers and avoiding "shadow" bans. In July 2020, the company announced it was pulling out of Hong Kong responding to the Hong Kong national security law.
In November 2020, a former TikTok executive stated to a UK parliamentary committee that TikTok censored content critical of China and particularly content related to the Uyghur genocide.
In October 2019, TikTok removed about two dozen accounts that were responsible for posting ISIS propaganda on the app.
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 May 2021, Pidgeon Pagonis, an American intersex activist, reported that for the second time the intersex hashtag wasn't working on TikTok. They couldn't click the tag on one of their own posts and trying to search for "intersex" pulled up a "null" page. TikTok told The Verge that in both of the instances Pagonis noticed, the tag had been removed by mistake and was subsequently restored. However, because there was no public statement about the accidental removal, Pagonis and others were left to speculate about whether it was being intentionally censored.
People use different tactics to skirt TikTok's moderation. Some lesbian women on the app jokingly refer to themselves as "le dolla bean" based on the "le$bian" spelling that's used to avoid their videos being removed. "It became this whole joke," says Mar Hicks, a historian of technology, "because things that have the word lesbian in them were either getting flagged for deletion or causing the users' accounts to get in trouble."
According to Mar Hicks, LGBTI people and people of color have found the guidelines are enforced "wildly differently" says Hicks, meaning their content will be suppressed or removed for supposed violations, but they get no response when they report abuse from other users. "Not only is it hurting their ability to speak and be seen on the app, but it's also allowing them to get attacked and have hate speech thrown their way."
Human rights in Russia
On 3 February 2021, TikTok received a praise from Russian officials because social app's cooperation with them in deletion of "forbidden" content, mostly related to protest activity in Russia. In particular, as media censorship agency Roskomnadzor official Evgeniy Zaitsev stated that, "we need to highlight TikTok among other social media platforms because it has office in Russia and actively cooperated with us, which cannot be said about others". Also, the State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein said that TikTok new anti-fake news policies go well with the ideology of Russian content censorship law and edition of those "should be considered a very positive signal".
In January 2020, Check Point Research discovered a security flaw in TikTok which could have allowed hackers access to user accounts using SMS. In February, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman criticised the app, calling it "spyware," and stating "I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it's always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone." Responding to Huffman's comments, TikTok stated "These are baseless accusations made without a shred of evidence."Wells Fargo banned the app from its devices due to privacy and security concerns.
U.S. COPPA fines
On 27 February 2019, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined ByteDance U.S.$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 others' videos, while still allowing the viewing and recording of content. In May 2020, an advocacy group filed a complaint with the FTC saying that TikTok had violated the terms of the February 2019 consent decree, which sparked subsequent Congressional calls for a renewed FTC investigation. In July 2020, it was reported that the FTC and the United States Department of Justice had initiated investigations.
UK Information Commissioner's Office investigation
In February 2019, the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner's Office launched an investigation of TikTok following the fine ByteDance received from the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Speaking to a parliamentary committee, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that the investigation focuses on the issues of private data collection, the kind of videos collected and shared by children online, as well as the platform's open messaging system which allows any adult to message any child. She noted that the company was potentially violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which requires the company to provide different services and different protections for children.
Italian Data Protection Authority
On 22 January 2021, the Italian Data Protection Authority ordered the blocking of the use of the data of users whose age has not been established on the social network. The order was issued after the death of a 10-year-old Sicilian girl, which occurred after the execution of a challenge shared by users of the platform that involved attempting to choke the user with a belt around the neck. The block is set to remain in place until 15 February, when it will be re-evaluated.
As with 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 and ableism. 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. TikTok's moderators were also told to suppress users with "abnormal body shape", "ugly facial looks", "too many wrinkles", or in "slums, rural fields" and "dilapidated housing" to prevent bullying.
TikTok has received criticism for enabling children to spend large sums of money purchasing coins to send to other users.
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 CN¥1 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 CN¥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 CN¥90 million in economic losses.
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. The lawsuit also accused ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, of taking user content without their permission. The plaintiff of the lawsuit, college student Misty Hong, downloaded the app but said she never created an account. She realized a few months later that TikTok has created an account for her using her information (such as biometric) and made a summary of her information. The lawsuit also alleged that information was sent to Chinese tech giant Baidu. In July 2020, twenty lawsuits against TikTok were merged into a single class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In February 2021, TikTok agreed to pay $92 million to settle the class action lawsuit.
Voice actor lawsuit
In May 2021, Ontario voice actor Bev Standing filed a lawsuit against TikTok overuse of her voice in a filter without permission. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of New York. TikTok declined to comment. She believes the company used recordings made for the Chinese government-run Institute of Acoustics.
Market Information Research Foundation lawsuit
In June 2021, the Netherlands-based Market Information Research Foundation (SOMI) filed a EUR1.4 billion lawsuit on behalf of Dutch parents against TikTok, alleging that the app gathers data on children without adequate permission.
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