Reuters Says TikTok Is Cloning Its Algorithm for U.S. App—TikTok Denies

TikTok cloning algorithm
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TikTok cloning algorithm
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Photo Credit: Collabstr

A new Reuters report suggests TikTok is working to clone its algorithm for a separate U.S. app that would operate independently of ByteDance.

The report suggests work on splitting the source code was ordered by ByteDance last year, predating the bill that would force ByteDance to divest from TikTok to keep its presence in the United States. ByteDance says it has no plans to sell TikTok and divesting from the service would be impossible. Instead, TikTok has challenged the U.S. law in court on First Amendment grounds.

Commenting on the story today on X/Twitter, TikTok posted a statement, “The Reuters story published today is misleading and inaccurate.” TikTok did not define the inaccuracies contained in Reuters initial report. Instead, the social media site posted a passage from its lawsuit against the government stating “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 legally. And certainly not on the 270-day timeline required by the Act.”

Engineers working for ByteDance and TikTok have begun separating millions of lines of code, sifting through the algorithm with the goal of creating a different algorithm that is ‘independent’ of the ByteDance Douyin—which operates much like TikTok inside China. China has instituted national security laws that prevent the sale of recommended content algorithms by adding it to the export control list.

TikTok says it’s recommendation algorithm was originally developed by ByteDance engineers in China and customized for operations across the globe. TikTok’s U.S. algorithm has been tweaked and customized by the same engineers—which is one of the United States’ chief national security concerns. The government is concerned that China could use the TikTok algorithm to sway U.S. politics or serve up misinformation to its 170 million U.S. users.

“Whoever owns the algorithm will have access to the data, no matter who the name on the door is,” Senator Marco Rubio (FL-R) said about the app. “It doesn’t work without the data.”

Reuters says the ‘tedious’ work of splitting the underlying code from TikTok that binds it to ByteDance could take over a year to complete. Engineers continue to work under the recommendation of separating the code, even as TikTok gears up to fight the United States government. TikTok’s previous efforts to silo data called ‘Project Texas’ did not satisfy lawmakers or the Biden administration. Yesterday DMN reported that proposal contained a potential ‘kill switch’ which TikTok offered to the U.S. government in 2022.