Under pressure for its alleged ties to the Chinese government and other security concerns, the developers behind TikTok published the company’s first “transparency report” on Monday, December 30, 2019. The report showed the number of requests for user data, content removal and copyright takedowns from governments around the world. The top two countries with the most requests for user data were India and the United States, respectively. China did not appear on its transparency report because technically, TikTok does not operate in China — its counterpart Douyin, which shares the same parent company ByteDance, operates in the country instead. According to TikTok, there are plans to continually release these transparency reports in the future.
Looking at the first half of 2019, TikTok received 107 requests from the Indian government asking for the data of 143 accounts. In comparison, the United States made 79 requests for information related to 255 users in the same six-month period. The report also detailed the percentages of how often TikTok complied with these requests. In total, 28 countries made just under 300 requests for user information.
Eric Ebenstein, TikTok’s director of public policy, posted in a statement on the company’s site, “We take such requests extremely seriously, and closely review each request that we receive to determine whether, for example, the request adheres to the required legal process or the content violates a local law. TikTok is committed to assisting law enforcement in appropriate circumstances while at the same time respecting the privacy and rights of our users.”
The concerns over censorship and potential security threats reached a fevered pitch in November after a video from a New Jersey teenager discussing China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims was taken down and her account banned from the app. Both the video and account were eventually restored after a public outcry, but it fueled suspicions that the Chinese-based parent company ByteDance might be under government influence.
Security concerns were previously raised by bipartisan politicians about TikTok’s popularity among service members and its potential to be exploited by China. By the end of 2019, the U.S. Army, Navy and the Defense Department had all banned the popular video app from government-issued phones.