TikTok: A Total Timeline

A brief history of the world’s most notorious video app

You’ve probably logged some hours on TikTok in the last few months, especially if you’re stuck at home just scrolling your phone. The video app is one of the most popular in the world right now– and one of the most notorious. TikTok has come under fire in the last few months and its parent company has angered America, India and many other countries. Some countries have even banned it outright because of privacy concerns.

TikTok has been one of the biggest drama queens of the pandemic era. Quibi wishes it could be this controversial.

Here’s a brief history of the app that has taken up way too much brain space in the COVID-19 era.

Aug. 2009

Ke$ha’s song TiK ToK debuts. It has nothing to do with the app TikTok.


March 2, 2012

Chinese billionaire Zhang Yiming founds ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company.

June 2012

Vine launches. The social media platform and app where users can upload six-to-seven second video clips that loop becomes massively popular, gaining more than 200 million users by 2015. Its users take the 6-second format and run with it, creating a new genre of internet humor and content creation.

Aug. 2014

Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang found the lip-syncing app Musical.ly in Shanghai. The app’s main focus is allowing users to create 15-second-to-one-minute videos where people can lip-sync to different audio. It would go on to reach 200 million users by May 2017.

Sept. 2016

ByteDance launches Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. It runs on a separate server than the American version to get around censors and other content restrictions.

January 2017

Twitter discontinues Vine after its creators struggle to scale its user base or find new ways to make money that would also keep creators on the app.

Nov. 9, 2017

ByteDance acquires Musical.ly for $1 billion. TikTok goes live in most markets besides America.

Aug. 8, 2018

ByteDance combines Musical.ly with Douyin, labeling it TikTok for all markets outside of China, including America.

Sept. 2018

TikTok surpasses Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat for monthly installs on devices through the App Store. This translates into a valuation of more than $75 billion for ByteDance. It would go on to be downloaded more than 1 billion times in 2018. Most of these users are Generation Z kids and people who migrate over from Vine. While lip-syncing was the start, TikTok’s users quickly start to use the platform much like Vine, creating in-jokes and meta-commentary and even using the videos for activism.

The tech world celebrates the app for the creativity of its users and its lack of advertising (at the time) and lack of trolls.

Yiming issues a letter stating that ByteDance will “further deepen cooperation” with Communist Party of China authorities to promote the party’s policies. Per the China Internet Security Law, the company is legally unable to refuse to hand over app data to the Chinese government.

Yiming assures U.S. officials that since TikTok is technically not available in China, that data is not stored in China.

Oct. 2019

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio asks the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to open an investigation into TikTok and ByteDance, and Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. Chuck Schumer request a security review of the company from the Director of National Intelligence.

Nov. 2019

Several investigations start in America:

  • The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States opens and investigation into ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly.
  • S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy follows up on Schumer’s request and agrees to look at the risks of using TikTok as a recruitment tool.
  • Josh Hawley introduces the National Security and Personal Data Protection Act to prohibit ByteDance from transferring private Amerian data to China. Hawley also introduces a bill that would ban the downloading of TikTok on government devices because of security concerns.

Dec. 2019

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Army bans TikTok from all government-issued devices, the TSA forbids its employees from using the platform for outreach purposes, and further legislation is introduced in the Senate that would prohibit all federal employees from even downloading the app.

Feb. 2020

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman calls the app “spyware,” citing TikTok’s privacy policy which states it collects usage information, IP addresses, a user’s mobile carrier, unique device identifiers, keystroke patterns, location data and other information.


May 2020

TikTok becomes more of a hotspot for activist activity following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The Dutch Data Protection Authority launches an investigation into the app’s privacy policies, particularly how they pertain to children. Multiple users also accuse the app of censorship.

June 2020

Former Disney+ head Kevin Mayer is named CEO of TikTok and COO of ByteDance.

 June 20, 2020

President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla. He doesn’t sell out the crowd, a fact that many attribute to young TikTokkers claiming a bunch of tickets with no intention of going.

June 29, 2020

The Indian government bans TikTok, along with 58 other apps, after continued military conflict with China.

July 2020

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the government is considering banning TikTok.

July 10, 2020

Amazon sends a company-wide email banning TikTok from its employees’ phones, lest they not be able to access their Amazon email on their phones anymore. Amazon later walks back that email, saying “There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”

Amid all of this, a glitch causing videos to not show like counts or views scares TikTok users into thinking the service is about to go the way of Vine. Turns out, TikTok lives to see another day, and it was just a glitch.

Charli D’Amelio, TikTok famous.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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