TikTok’s expansion has been equally impressive globally. Worldwide, its monthly active user base rose from 54 million in Jan. 2018 to over 271 million by the end of that year. By Dec. 2019, that number had grown to 507 million; by July 2020, it stood at 689 million. In Aug. 2020, the app additionally surpassed 2 billion downloads worldwide.
Despite these gains, TikTok's user base still pales next to Facebook, which reported 2.7 billion monthly active users worldwide in its second quarter earnings report in July.
TikTok’s lawsuit followed an Aug. 6 executive order by Trump that would forbid “any transaction by any person” in the U.S. with the company’s Beijing-based owner Bytedance or its subsidiaries if Bytedance failed to divest itself of U.S. TikTok operations within 45 days. The order, which invoked the National Emergencies Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, accused Bytedance of capturing “vast swaths of information from its users” that would allow the Chinese government “to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage."
In its complaint, TikTok claims that Trump’s order “poses an existential threat to the company’s U.S. business” and ignores its recent efforts to address concerns over its practices. These include an expressed willingness to sell its U.S. operations to a domestic company (Microsoft has been in talks with Bytedance to do so) and establish a transparency center that would provide more information on how it moderates content.
If Trump’s order is enacted, the complaint argues that TikTok’s tremendous growth in the U.S. stands to be “wipe[d] out…by preventing TikTok from attracting new users; by driving current users to competing platforms; and by destroying TikTok’s ability to partner with other companies and attract and retain employees.”
TikTok’s ties to Bytedance have long been the subject of controversy in the U.S., where the Chinese company was previously accused of copyright theft by the music industry (an issue that was settled in July when TikTok and the National Music Publishers' Association signed a multi-year agreement ending the standoff). In Nov. 2019, multiple media reports revealed that Bytedance’s 2017 acquisition of the U.S.-based video-sharing app Musical.ly was the subject of a national security inquiry by the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The company has also been the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits alleging the app collected minors' personal data without parental consent, including one such suit that's currently ongoing.
UPDATE: On Aug. 26 at 5:25 p.m. ET, this story was updated to reflect that allegations of copyright theft by TikTok were settled when the service reached a deal with the National Music Publishers' Association.