How TikTok Plans to Win Over the US with a Custom Algorithm

US TikTok

In a move with significant geopolitical implications, TikTok is reportedly developing a separate version of its core algorithm for its 170 million US users. According to Reuters, this project began in late 2023, before US legislation pressured ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, to possibly divest its US operations.

TikTok initially declined to comment on the report but later called it “misleading and factually inaccurate” without specifying details. The report describes a complex project involving hundreds of engineers from ByteDance and TikTok in both the US and China. These engineers are working to separate millions of lines of code to create an independent system distinct from Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese counterpart.

TikTok Undertakes Ambitious Project to Develop Separate Algorithm for US Users

US TikTok

The technical challenges are substantial. Described as “tedious dirty work,” the process of sifting through the codebase to determine what can be included in the US version is estimated to take over a year. Each line must be carefully examined to ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements specific to the US market.

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The successful completion of this project would mark a significant milestone for TikTok. The US platform would boast an independent recommendation algorithm, severing its reliance on the core system used in other regions. However, the company acknowledges potential drawbacks. Separating the codebase might compromise the platform‘s current level of performance. Currently, ByteDance engineers in China play a crucial role in maintaining and updating the algorithm to optimize user engagement. A function that the US-based team might struggle to replicate entirely on its own.

The implications of this project extend beyond technical hurdles. It represents TikTok’s attempt to address growing national security concerns in the US regarding potential Chinese government influence over user data. By developing a separate algorithm, TikTok aims to demonstrate greater operational autonomy and assuage anxieties about the platform‘s ability to safeguard sensitive user information.

So, the success of this initiative remains to be seen. The technical complexities are significant, and the potential impact on user experience is uncertain. Nonetheless, TikTok’s commitment to a separate US algorithm signifies a strategic shift. Potentially paving the way for a more independent future for the platform in the American market.

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