TikTok building US-based copy of recommendation algorithm as potential sale, ban looms: report

TikTok is reportedly building a copy of its core recommendation algorithm in the US an effort that is playing out even as the company tries to block a law requiring its China-based parent ByteDance to divest or face a total US ban of the app.

Efforts to rebuild the algorithm would allow the popular video-sharing app to operate separately from ByteDance — potentially clearing the way for it to remain operational if TikTok was sold to a US buyer, Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the situation.

ByteDance reportedly ordered engineers to begin work on cloning the algorithm last year before US lawmakers threw their support behind the legislation.

Despite the effort, sources told the outlet there are no current plans to sell TikTok.

The algorithm is essential to powering TikTok, which has more than 170 million US users.

The complicated project is expected to take more than a year to complete and requires creating a code base in the US thats separate from any systems used by ByteDance, the report said.

TikTok executives reportedly informed employees about the project during an internal all-hands meeting and have had their legal and compliance teams working out potential roadblocks, the report said.

TikTok and ByteDance have said for months that they will not sell.

Earlier this month, TikTok filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to block the divestment law from being implemented.

A TikTok spokesperson pushed back on the Reuters report, describing it as “misleading and factually inaccurate.”

“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,” the spokesperson said.

Dubbed the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications, the law requires TikToks parent company ByteDance to divest itself from the popular video-sharing app within 12 months or face a total US ban.

The legislation passed last month as part of a Ukraine-Israel foreign aid package.

The company has argued the divestiture bill is a de facto ban that violates the First Amendment.

In its lawsuit, TikToks legal team asserted that the 12-month timeline for a sale was simply not possible: not commercially, not technologically, not legally.

There is no question: the Act will force a shutdown of TikTok by January 19, 2025, silencing the 170 million Americans who use the platform to communicate in ways that cannot be replicated elsewhere, the lawsuit says.

Any sale of TikTok is complicated by Chinas strict laws regulating technology exports.

In 2020, China passed a law requiring companies to obtain a government export license for AI-related technology something that Beijing would be highly unlikely to grant for a TikTok sale.

One of TikToks potential US-based suitors, former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, has said that the apps algorithm would need to be rebuilt in the US as part of any deal.

As The Post has reported, Mnuchin has been pitching a plan to rebuild the algorithm as the only way to satisfy Congresss national security concerns about the app as well as sidestep Chinas export laws.

The ex-Trump administration official has also sought an AI firm to partner with his bid and assist in the work of rebuilding the app.