TikTok, the popular social media platform known for the fun lip-syncing and dance videos that users like to post, is reportedly looking to distance itself from its parent company in Beijing.
The company is worried its Chinese roots could get in the way of growth opportunities and is now considering ways to distance itself (both figuratively and literally) like moving operations to Singapore and rebranding the app in the U.S., sources told the Wall Street Journal.
However, a spokesperson from ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, said a move to Singapore is not under consideration, nor is a discussion to change TikTok’s branding in an effort to distance itself from China.
A rebranding effort in the U.S. would come at a difficult time. Aside from the ongoing trade war, U.S. officials have long been wary that Chinese companies may pass sensitive information to the Chinese government. Last month the U.S. restricted dozens of Chinese companies, many of them dealing in surveillance, security, and tech, from getting access to U.S. technology. Perhaps most notably, in May the U.S. blacklisted Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, citing national security concerns.
Some U.S. leaders remain unconvinced that TikTok, the first Chinese social media company to make it big in the U.S., is not a risk to U.S. security.
"TikTok claims they don't store American user data in China. That's nice. But all it takes is one knock on the door of their parent company based in China from a Communist Party official for that data to be transferred to the Chinese government's hands," Senator Josh Hawley said at a hearing on data security earlier this month.
Alex Zhu, head of TikTok, said the company does not answer to China’s top leader Xi Jinping, and, if asked to take down a video or share user data, the company “would turn him down.” He has also denied the company shares data or information and said TikTok user data is housed in Virginia, with a backup server in Singapore.
The app has reportedly been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times, according to mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower.
ByteDance operates a version of TikTok in China under a different name. The head of TikTok is also based in China, but the company’s website does not list any offices in China.
Zhu said TikTok user data is separate from ByteDance and “the data of TikTok is only being used by TikTok for TikTok users.”
At the same time TikTok faces scrutiny over its relationship to China, its parent company ByteDance may be looking to enter the streaming music world and is reportedly in talks with music labels like Universal Music, Sony Music, and Warner Music to land licensing deals.
The company could launch its music streaming service as soon as December 2019 in emerging markets like India and Indonesia, according to the report. ByteDance has not yet released a name for the app yet, but it is expected to cost less than Spotify and Apple price points in the U.S. Spotify currently charges $10 a month for an individual premium plan.