Is TikTok Creating a US-Only Algorithm to Evade Getting Banned?

TikTok denies all claims that it's working on a US recommendation engine — but can the app be trusted?

As the US Government inches alarmingly close to a nationwide TikTok ban, the social media app denies that it’s trying to pander to lawmakers by creating a US-only algorithm independent of its Chinese parent, ByteDance.

This comes after news organization Reuters released a report claiming that TikTok employees in the US and China were ordered to separate millions of lines of code to create a cloned recommendation engine for US users.

With Reuters claiming to “stand by [its] reporting’, TikTok’s supposed code overhaul represents the latest effort the Beijing-based company is taking to overcome security concerns and remain operating on US soil, with previous transparency initiatives like Project Texas being shelled last year.

Reuters Claims That TikTok is Creating a US Algorithm to Overcome Legal Scrutiny

If you’re an avid scroller, you’re probably already aware of the tumultuous legal battle that’s been unfolding between TikTok and the US Government for the past couple of years. Despite attracting a US user base of almost 150 million and contributing $24 billion to the national economy in 2023, the short-form video app has repeatedly come under fire for its ties to the Chinese government.

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Proponents of the ban argue sensitive US data is at risk of being comprimised through the app, and some even go as far to claim the platform is being leveraged by the Chinese state used to covertly influence the national public. The movement is gaining traction too, with an updated divest-and-ban bill receiving cross-party support in the House of Representatives just last month.

Despite escalating pressures, a recent report by Reuters suggests that the ByteDance-owned company isn’t taking the proposed ban lying down. According to sources with ‘direct knowledge’ of internal efforts, TikTok is creating a new code repository for a TikTok algorithm for US users, in an effort to assuage security concerns by cutting ties with its Chinese owner.

The report claims that the cloned recommendation algorithm, which intends to be completely independent of the one used in its Chinese version Doyin, is already being created by software engineers in the US and China. According to two sources with direct knowledge of the project, those working on the initiatives have been ordered to separate ‘millions of lines of code’, and eliminate ‘any information linking to Chinese users’.

This isn’t proving to be an easy feat. The sources cited in Reuter’s report describe the task as “dirty work” as each line of code needs to be reviewed to determine if it can go to the separate code base. It’s likely that the mission will take over a year to complete, as a result of this painstaking process,

Yet, with TikTok’s previous attempts to quell data concerns over data security falling flat – including Project Texas, a dismissed initiative that planned to move all data centers handing US information onto national soil – there’s a chance that creating a new algorithm is the app’s last grasp to remain in the US market.

TikTok Denies that It’s Making a US Algorithm

Less than a day after Reuters published its report, TikTok clapped back on social media platform X, claiming that the story was “misleading and factually inaccurate”.

The account then went on to argue “As we said in our court filing, the ‘qualified divestiture’ demanded by the Act to allow TikTok to continue operating in the United States is simply not possible: not commercially, not technologically, not legally. And certainly not on the 270-day timeline required by the Act”.

With TikTok and ByteDance recently filing a lawsuit in the US federal court in an attempt to block the law that would force a sale or ban of the app, their Tweet reflects their argument that a divestiture from their Chinese company may not be possible within the required timeline.

However, with Reuters claiming to “stand by its coverage”, and TikTok having a vested legal interest in keeping information about their US algorithm buried, we recommend taking the app’s rebuttal with a pinch of salt.

Would The US-Only TikTok Algorithm Be as Good as the Original?

TikTok has risen to the ranks it is at today because of the success of its proprietary algorithm, which synthesizes your previous likes and viewing preferences. It’s the reason why your For You Page (FYP) seems eerily tailored to your interests, and it’s also why you probably find it hard to resist the occasional doomscroll.

However, if reports from Reuters are to be trusted, tailoring TikTok’s algorithm to a US audience could fundamentally change the way it recommends content to users. According to sources, TikTok managers are also well aware that the new engine won’t be able to deliver the same levels of performance as the existing app, as the current model is heavily reliant on BtyeDance engineers to update and maintain the code to maximize engagement.

Whether or not TikTok will be banned in the next coming year is likely to hinge on its success in splitting the app’s code. However, even if TikTok remains in the US market, the average user’s experience with the app twelve months from now will undoubtedly look very different than how it does today.

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Written by:
Isobel O'Sullivan (BSc) is a senior writer at with over four years of experience covering business and technology news. Since studying Digital Anthropology at University College London (UCL), she’s been a regular contributor to Market Finance’s blog and has also worked as a freelance tech researcher. Isobel’s always up to date with the topics in employment and data security and has a specialist focus on POS and VoIP systems.
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