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TikTok is reportedly preparing algorithm split for US, but company denies

TikTok claims that the report is false.
By

Published onMay 31, 2024

TikTok featured image
Joe Hindy / Android Authority
TL;DR
  • Sources claim TikTok is working on creating a clone of its recommendation algorithm that would operate independently of its Chinese counterpart.
  • The work is part of a plan to show US lawmakers that the US business is independent of its Beijing-based parent company.
  • TikTok denies that it is splitting its source code.

A new report claims that TikTok is working to create an independent clone of its source code in an attempt to stay in the US. However, TikTok is denying the report, calling it “misleading” and “factually inaccurate.”

Back in April, a bill was passed and signed into law that requires Beijing-based parent company ByteDance to divest its ownership stake in TikTok to keep the short-form video platform in the US. The bill stems from bipartisan concerns about TikTok’s connection to China and the platform’s influence on its users. To stay in the US without having to sell its business, TikTok has been exploring ways to appease US lawmakers.

According to a report from Reuters, one plan TikTok has is to clone its recommendation algorithm. Unnamed sources have reportedly told the outlet that TikTok is sifting through the company’s algorithm to create a separate code base that is independent of the systems used by Douyin, the Chinese version of the app operated by ByteDance. The goal is to prove to US lawmakers that TikTok is independent from its Chinese parent company.

It’s said that work on this project has been ongoing since last year. The sources claim that it will take over a year to finish splitting the source code. It appears that management is aware that once the work is complete, the algorithm may not have the same level of performance as before as the performance on the existing model is heavily reliant on updates from ByteDance’s engineers in China.

In addition, the report mentions that executives have talked about the project with the team in all-hands meetings. The topic was also reportedly discussed on the company’s internal messaging system, Lark.

After the story was published, TikTok responded by denying the authenticity of the report in a tweet. The company asserts that the story is “misleading” and “factually inaccurate.”

The Reuters story published today is misleading and factually inaccurate. As we said in our court filing, the ‘qualified divestiture’ demanded by the Act to allow TikTok to continue operating in the United States is simply not possible: not commercially, not technologically, not…
— TikTok Policy (@TikTokPolicy) May 30, 2024

TikTok spokesperson Michael Hughes also reached out to The Verge, providing the following statement:

While we have continued work in good faith to further safeguard the authenticity of the TikTok experience, it is simply false to suggest that this work would facilitate divestiture or that divestiture is even a possibility.

When asked if TikTok is splitting its source code, Hughes responded to the outlet that the claim is “100% false.”

This wouldn’t be the first time TikTok has tried to convince US lawmakers of its independence. The company had an earlier plan called Project Texas to address US government national security concerns. Project Texas was an initiative that would have US user data stored by a US company, like Oracle. TikTok would then allow an in-house committee approved by the US government to monitor its operations. However, the plan was largely dismissed by lawmakers.

TikTok has until January 19th, 2025, to sell the company to a US bidder before getting banned. The company has said before that it does not plan to sell and that such a move would be impossible. However, Reuters’s sources say that once the code splitting is done, “it could lay the groundwork for a divestiture of the U.S. assets.”

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