TikTok, the popular video-sharing social media platform, is not shutting down and online speculation about it appears to be nothing more than unfounded rumors. The company has not provided any evidence that it plans to cease operations any time soon. The conversation appears to have started after the U.S. Army announced that service members would no longer be allowed to use TikTok on government phones.
Heavy has reached out to TikTok’s public relations department to clarify. This post will be updated once we hear back.
As of this writing, TikTok’s leaders had not yet publicly addressed the rumors as they have in the past. In October of 2018, amid similar speculation, TikTok used its Twitter account to reassure users that the platform was not going anywhere. The tweet read, “Hi. No, we’re not shutting down. So… any fun weekend plans?”
TikTok has repeatedly faced questions about whether it could be forced to shut down since it launched in the United States. The app has been scrutinized as a possible national security risk because it is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company.
Here’s what you need to know.
The U.S. Army Has Banned Soldiers From Using TikTok On Government Phones
Speculation spread that TikTok could be shutting down after it was reported that the U.S. Army and Navy were barring service members from using the app on government-issued phones. Lt. Colonel Robin Ochua told Military.com in a brief statement that TikTok was “considered a cyber threat.” The Army had previously been using TikTok to reach new recruits.
The Defense Department cannot ban soldiers and sailors from using TikTok on their personal devices. But the military has cautioned its service members to be cautious when using smartphone applications. In mid-December, a message was sent out to all Defense Department employees advising against using TikTok.
Lt. Colonel Crystal X. Boring told NBC News, “The message directs appropriate action for employees to take in order to safeguard their personal information. The guidance is to be wary of applications you download, monitor your phones for unusual and unsolicited texts and delete them immediately and uninstall TikTok to circumvent any exposure of personal information.”
A National Security Investigation of TikTok’s Owner Was Launched In November 2019 Over Concerns About Whether User Data May Be Shared With China
The owner of TikTok, ByteDance, has formally been under investigation by the U.S. government since November 2019. A review was launched after members of Congress expressed concerns about whether the app posed a security risk, especially amid ongoing tension between the U.S. and China.
The call for the probe was a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Cotton teamed up on a letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire in October 2019, asking for intelligence operatives to look into how TikTok uses data on its customers.
Senators Schumer and Cotton argued that “foreign influence campaigns” could use TikTok to interfere in the next election. The letter read in part, “With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore. Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”
TikTok responded to the concerns in a blog post on its website. It was not clear who at the company penned the message because it was not signed. The app’s leaders have insisted that data from users in the United States is not accessible to Chinese officials at the parent company ByteDance.
“We store all TikTok U.S. user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore. Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law. Further, we have a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices.”
TikTok Has Been Downloaded More Than 1.5 Billion Times
TikTok has exploded in popularity in very little time. According to analytics company Sensor Tower, which was cited by Business Insider, TikTok has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times from Google Play and Apple’s app store as of November 2019. The number was at 1 billion at the beginning of 2019.
In 2019, TikTok was the third most-downloaded app in the United States, Sensor Tower reported. WhatsApp and Messenger took the top spots. Facebook and Instagram were fourth and fifth. Users in India accounted for much of the growth.
The majority of TikTok’s users are younger. Marketing agency MediaKix reports that 60 percent of active TikTok users in the U.S. are between the ages of 16 and 24.