TikTok said it received 298 legal requests for information from 28 countries over the first half of 2019, led by India (99), the U.S. (68) and Japan (28), with no other country reaching double-figures.
Director of public policy Eric Ebenstein wrote in a blog post, “Like all global internet platforms, TikTok is subject to a variety of laws and regulations in each country. Occasionally, we are presented with requests from various official bodies in the countries where the TikTok app operates, such as government agencies or law enforcement officials, asking us to take certain actions at their behest. These include requests to take down content deemed to be in violation of local laws, or to provide information related to accounts under certain defined circumstances, such as to assist in a criminal investigation or emergency request.”
China, the home of TikTok parent ByteDance, was not one of those 28 countries, despite its history of censorship.
Louise Matsakis of Wired pointed out that TikTok has said in the past that it operates independently of its parent company and does not store data in China.
ByteDance is also the parent of Douyin, an app similar to TikTok that is available in China. Douyin was not included in the transparency report released by TikTok.
Protests in Hong Kong began during the period covered by the transparency report, but Matsakis pointed out that they accelerated during the summer, after the end-of-June cutoff.
Drew Harwell and Tony Romm of The Washington Post reported in September that searches for Hong Kong on TikTok yielded few, if any, results related to the protests.
TikTok U.S. general manager Vanessa Pappas addressed allegations of censorship in a November blog post, insisting that content moderation in the U.S. is handled by a team based in California and focused on the country, and writing, “Every day, our U.S. team makes decisions that we see as best for the U.S. market, and we are given the independence to do so. This allows us to focus on doing what’s best for our community here in the U.S.”
TikTok also received 26 requests to remove or restrict content from nine countries, again led by India (11) and the U.S. (6), with no mention of China.
Finally, the company said it received 3,345 take-down notices regarding copyrighted content, removing at least some content in 85% of those cases.
Ebenstein wrote, “Going forward, we will be regularly releasing these reports, with a report covering the second half of 2019 to follow in the coming months. We believe it is incumbent upon us to provide clear information for each market to show how we balance cooperation with legal requests and protection of user rights. Through these periodic updates, our community will have the opportunity to better understand the actions we take on their behalf and to evaluate us based on up-to-date information.”