TikTok Social Media Application

Date: August 7th, 2020
Classification: Unclassified
Fully releasable (ATIP)? Yes
Branch / Agency: NCSB / PS

Issue: There has been significant media reporting related to the United States’ (US) potential banning of the Chinese-owned social media application called TikTok.

Proposed Response:


TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based Internet technology company founded in 2012. It is used to create short music, lip-sync, dance, comedy and talent videos of 3 to 15 seconds, and short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds. TikTok was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android in most markets outside of mainland China; however, it only became available worldwide, including the United States, after merging with Musical.ly on August 2, 2018.

Very popular with younger users, the app has been downloaded over a billion times and is available in over 140 markets and 75 languages, including in Canada. By the end of 2019, media reports state that TikTok was the sixth most popular mobile app downloaded in Canada, although only 9% of Canadians aged 16 to 64 were using TikTok by the end of the year.

The app uses artificial intelligence to analyze users' interests and preferences through their interactions with the content, and display a personalized content feed for each user. Similar to other consumer algorithms such as those used by YouTube and Netflix, which provide users with a list of recommended videos, TikTok interprets the user's individual preferences and provides content that they may enjoy.

Recently, many media outlets have reported on data privacy concerns related to the app.  According to the Huffington Post, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that “Americans should download TikTok “only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”. According to the article, Pompeo went on to say “ “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right”.

The Huffington Post article further noted that “according to The Sydney Morning Herald, Sen. Jenny McAllister, chair of Australia’s Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media, believes concerns about the platform are well founded.”

Due to the alleged data privacy concerns, on August 7th, 2020, US President Donald Trump announced, through Executive Orders, sweeping bans on U.S. transactions with China's ByteDance, the owner of the TikTok, and Tencent, the operator of another Chinese app called WeChat. CBC has reported that the executive orders, will go into effect in 45 days (mid-September, 2020).  CBC further reported that the Executive Orders “come after the Trump administration said this week it was stepping up efforts to purge "untrusted" Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks and called TikTok and WeChat "significant threats”.

The 45 day window before the ban comes into effect provides the American company Microsoft time to finalize a potential deal to acquire TikTok.

Prepared by: Gregory Bunghardt, A/Manager, National Cyber Security Directorate, 613-990-9608 / 613-558-8231(c)
Approved by: Dominic Rochon, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, National and Cyber Security Branch, 613-990-4976

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