Over 170 million Americans use TikTok, which for many is a lighthearted social media app, while for others, it serves as a business platform. Its explosive growth during the pandemic has deeply influenced American culture, functioning as a search engine, community hub, and launchpad for careers.

However, TikTok’s future has become uncertain after President Biden signed a bill into law at the end of April, which mandates the sale of the app or its potential ban. Critics argue that this threatens free speech, while supporters assert it’s necessary for national security.

Who owns TikTok?

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a global private company founded by Chinese entrepreneurs. According to TikTok, approximately 60% of ByteDance is owned by global institutional investors, with 20% belonging to the company’s founders and another 20% owned by employees. The current CEO of TikTok is Shou Zi Chew, a Singaporean businessman.

When was TikTok created?

Originally launched as Musical.ly in 2014 by Chinese entrepreneurs Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang, the app gained popularity among teenagers for lip-syncing. ByteDance, which already owned Douyin, TikTok’s counterpart in China, acquired Musical.ly. The merger of Musical.ly into TikTok occurred in August 2018, shaping the platform as it exists today.

Is TikTok owned by China?

Contrary to popular belief, TikTok is not based in China and is not available for use within the country. Douyin serves as TikTok’s mainland Chinese equivalent. TikTok operates with global headquarters in Los Angeles and Singapore. ByteDance, however, was founded by Chinese entrepreneurs Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo. The company is registered in the Cayman Islands but is headquartered in Beijing, adhering to Chinese media licensing requirements that include government-affiliated ownership.

Does TikTok face a potential ban?

While TikTok has not been banned yet, the U.S. Senate passed a bill in April requiring ByteDance to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations within nine months, with a possible three-month extension, or face a ban. President Biden signed the bill into law swiftly after its passage. If implemented, TikTok would disappear from Apple and Google stores, and without updates, it would eventually become unusable on devices where it was previously downloaded.

Despite potential bans, previous instances like India’s ban in 2020 have shown that users often find ways to access TikTok through VPNs or by changing their phone’s location. TikTok and ByteDance have contested the legislation in federal court, arguing against forced divestiture, highlighting potential challenges in complying with the law due to Chinese government restrictions on technology transfers.