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TikTok Denies Report That It’s Developing US-Only Algorithm

TikTok has denied a Reuters report that it is developing a clone of its recommendation algorithm specifically for its 170 million U.S. users.

Reuters reported Thursday (May 30) that the social media platform aims to create a version that operates independently of its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, and potentially appease American lawmakers who voted to force a sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations.

In a Thursday post on X, TikTok said: “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 legally. And certainly not on the 270-day timeline required by the Act.”

Reuters acknowledged TikTok’s statement in an update to its report, with a Reuters spokesperson saying, “We stand by our reporting.”

In its report, which cited unnamed sources, Reuters said that while there are no plans for a divestiture of TikTok’s U.S. assets, the development of a separate algorithm could lay the groundwork for such a move in the future.

The work on splitting the source code, which was ordered by ByteDance late last year, predates the bill signed into law in April that required a sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations, according to the report. The goal is to eliminate any information linking to Chinese users and ensure the algorithm’s independence from its Chinese counterpart.

TikTok’s move to develop a U.S. copy of its algorithm is seen as an attempt to address concerns raised by U.S. lawmakers and President Biden about potential data access by the Chinese government, the report said. By creating a separate algorithm, TikTok aims to demonstrate that its U.S. operations are independent and reduce the perceived risk of data misuse or spying.

TikTok and ByteDance have filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, seeking to block the law that forces a sale or ban of the app, per the report. The companies argue that such a divestiture is not commercially, technologically or legally possible within the required timeline. The legal challenges are ongoing.