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TikTok released its first official transparency report on January 1. The move is symbolic of the short-form video app’s maturation, and comes at the end of its breakout year in global pop culture. The report details government requests, which could include requests to remove content or be given access to personal data of certain users.
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The US and India led in requests for take-downs and personal information, while China was notably absent from TikTok’s report:
- India. The country is home to the most TikTok users globally — 119.3 million in 2019, per RouteNote — and led in requests with a total of 118, a combination of 99 legal requests, eight emergency, and 11 governmental requests for account removals or restrictions.
- United States. There were a total of 85 requests from the US, which has the second-largest number of TikTok users globally with 39.6 million in 2019, per RouteNote, a combination of 68 legal requests and 11 emergency requests, with an additional six governmental requests for account removals or restrictions.
- China. China had zero requests because TikTok itself doesn’t operate in the country — instead there’s a separate version of the app called Douyin, which the company did not report on. That said, China’s absence is notable given that TikTok — not Douyin — came under scrutiny in 2019 for account removals related to videos that called attention to the ongoing Uighur crisis in China, and for content related to the Beijing protests facing removal or suppression.
Transparency reports from major social platforms have become more common in recent years as these companies seek to rebuild or preserve trust among an increasingly wary public. TikTok may be a new platform, but it’s firmly in the big leagues given its meteoric rise: The app has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times in total, helping its owner ByteDance cross the 1 billion monthly users mark. But success at that scale brings with it greater scrutiny from regulators.
In particular, the company is facing regulation from The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and has been banned by the US Army. Both actions are the result of concerns about TikTok’s data collection in the US in light of its Chinese roots. And, notably, the app complied with a high number of requests from the US compared with other countries: The US saw 86% rate of compliance with requests compared with just 47% in India.
While this is a clear sign that TikTok is working to comply with both the US government and the unwritten rules of the social world, it’s unlikely to keep regulators at bay entirely.
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