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TikTok Works on U.S. Exclusive Recommendation Algorithm

TikTok Works on U.S. Exclusive Recommendation Algorithm

May 30, 2024

TikTok Works on U.S. Exclusive Recommendation Algorithm

TikTok is reportedly developing a separate version of its recommendation algorithm exclusively for its 170 million U.S. users. This move is seen as an attempt to address concerns from American lawmakers who are considering a ban on the app over national security concerns. Reuters reported that the split in the source code was ordered by TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance late last year.

The initiative to disentangle TikTok's U.S. operations from ByteDance predates the bill that sought to force a sale of TikTok's U.S. assets, which was signed into law in April. Although the sources stated that there are currently no plans for a divestiture, completing the code separation could potentially facilitate such a move in the future.

TikTok has declined to comment on the matter. The company has previously stated that selling the U.S. assets would be impossible and has no plans to do so. However, TikTok and ByteDance filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in May to block the law that could lead to a ban or forced sale of the app by January 19, 2023. A U.S. appeals court has set a fast-track schedule to consider the legal challenges to the new law.

According to the sources cited by Reuters, hundreds of engineers from both the U.S. and China have been assigned the task of creating a separate code base for the U.S. version of TikTok that operates independently from ByteDance's Chinese version, Douyin. This separation would involve sifting through millions of lines of code and eliminating any links to Chinese users.

The effort to create a technical separation of TikTok's U.S. operations is seen as a way to mitigate bipartisan political risk. The U.S. President and other supporters of the law have expressed concerns that TikTok could potentially give Beijing access to a vast amount of data from U.S. users, which could be used for spying or influencing purposes.

The complexity of the undertaking is significant, as engineers have to meticulously review each line of code to ensure it can be included in the new, independent U.S. code base. The work is expected to take over a year to complete and is described as "dirty work" due to the tedious nature of the task.

TikTok executives had previously considered making some of TikTok's algorithm open source as a measure of technological transparency. However, this plan has not been confirmed. The company has communicated its intentions and progress on the code-splitting project during team meetings and through internal documents and communication systems.

If successful, the new source code repository would serve only TikTok U.S., allowing it to run and maintain its recommendation algorithm independently from other regional versions of the app and Douyin. However, there is a risk that the performance of TikTok U.S. may not match the current level due to its reliance on ByteDance's engineers in China for updates and maintenance of the code base.

Reuters Article


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