TikTok is reportedly carrying out an important software development task, as it continues its legal battle against the recently introduced divest or ban law in the US.

Reuters, citing sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, reported that TikTok is working on a clone of its recommendation algorithm for its 170 million American users.

This development could result in a version of the popular short video app that operates independently of its Chinese parent ByteDance. It could also be more palatable to American lawmakers who want to ban it, Reuters noted.

Image credit: Unsplash

TikTok algorithm

Last month it had been reported that ByteDance would prefer to shut down its loss-making app rather than sell it, if the Beijing-based firm exhausted all its legal options to fight the legislation to ban the platform from app stores in the US.

It was previously reported that the algorithms TikTok relies on for its operations are deemed core to ByteDance’s overall operations, which would make a sale of the app with the algorithms highly unlikely.

Now according to Reuters, TikTok is working on a clone of its recommendation algorithm.

The work on splitting the source code was apparently ordered by ByteDance late last year, and predated the US legislation to force a sale of TikTok’s US operations.

The sources, who were granted anonymity because they are not authorised to speak publicly, were quoted by Reuters as saying that once the code is split, it could lay the groundwork for a divestiture of the US assets, although there are no current plans to do so.

TikTok response

TikTok initially declined to comment, Reuters reported, but after the article was published, TikTok did respond via a tweet on X.

“The Reuters story published today is misleading and factually inaccurate,” without specifying what was inaccurate.

“We stand by our reporting,” a Reuters spokesperson responded.

Divest or ban

The US Senate had in April passed the legislation (otherwise known as the ‘Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act’), that gives ByteDance up to a year to divest TikTok, or face a nationwide ban across the United States.

Also immediately US President Joe Biden followed through on his previous commitment to back the bill, and signed the bill into law.

The ban or divest law gives Beijing-based ByteDance 270 days (or roughly nine months) to sell TikTok to a US-based company, or the app will face a total ban from American app stores, as well as being prohibited from “internet hosting services” that support the app.

President Biden could extend the deadline another 90 days if he determines ByteDance has made progress toward a sale.

That would give TikTok potentially up to a year before facing a ban.

But ByteDance is subject to Chinese law, and the Chinese government has previously stated it will oppose a sale.

Indeed, the Chinese government in 2020 had added content recommendation algorithms to its export-control list, which means that a divestiture or sale of TikTok’s algorithm will have to go through its administrative licensing procedures.

Earlier this month TikTok and ByteDance filed a lawsuit in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to block the US law. That lawsuit argued that the law was unconstitutional” and also alleged the US legislation violated free speech.

American TikTok content creators have also sued to try and block the legislation.

A US appeals court this week set a fast-track schedule to consider the legal challenges to the new law.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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