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Viral Video App TikTok Is Here to Stay

January 7, 2020, 2:11 PM UTC

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Like it or not, TikTok is not going away.

The viral video app is killing it with teenagers, growing at a faster rate than Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.  

TikTok is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, and is designed for the “new generation of creators.” The Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin, has amassed 400 million daily active users, ByteDance revealed in its annual report this week. 

Katherine Wu, an investor at Notation Capital, wrote a blog post about ByteDance’s report, asking the question that’s definitely been on my mind: “Is ByteDance the first company to have created a truly global, viral, social app?”

Wu thinks this is only the beginning for ByteDance and its dominance beyond China.

At 28, I feel ridiculously old for TikTok, and I have no idea how to use it, so I just do what other “old people” do — I follow TikTok’s account on Instagram. So when I went to Atlanta over the holidays to spend time with family, my younger sister decided to give me the low-down on TikTok. (She falls squarely in the Gen Z demographic — she’s not on Facebook, barely uses Instagram, but is absolutely obsessed with TikTok.)

She scrolled through the various short-form videos and even forced me to record one with her. (We danced to a mashup of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and … “Soulja Boy.” Don’t ask. I don’t know either, and I am certain this video will somehow come back to bite me in 20 years.) 

All of ByteDance’s products use machine learning in some way to deliver hyper-personalized content that users want. The company uses computer vision and natural language processing to understand and analyze written content, images and videos. Based on your clicks and swipes and taps, the algorithms learn your reading habits and bring you content that it knows you’ll like.

So even though the videos I saw were funny, and I enjoyed them, I couldn’t stop thinking, “YOUR DATA. WHAT ABOUT CHINA. OMG.” And I’m not the only one with those worries. The U.S. government and other tech industry observers have similar concerns.

They fear that TikTok is collecting and sharing user data. It’s threatening national security. It could challenge democratic values. Worst of all — it’s promoting “scantily clad adults and suggestive dancing” to children.

But my little sister didn’t know about any of that, and like many in her age group, didn’t exactly care. “They’re just funny videos.” And honestly, it might be a little too late to stop its influence because it’s already so ingrained in culture. 

If you don’t believe me, just read this mind-boggling article in the New York Times about how TikTok influencers with millions of followers are moving into a house in Los Angeles together to … make content full-time. Dubbed the “Hype House,” the physical location of this content creator collective is nearly without furniture, which makes shooting videos easier.

Several politicians have asked the U.S. government to open an investigation into TikTok out of concerns about censorship and counterintelligence. But the genie is way out of the bottle, and culture doesn’t follow Washington’s timeline. 

HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU?: Term Sheet has teamed up with Semaphore on its 12th annual confidence survey of private equity and venture capital professionals. In the past, hundreds of you have chimed in with your confidence levels for the year ahead. I encourage you all to take the survey here. The results will be published here early next month. Thanks in advance.

Polina Marinova
Twitter: @polina_marinova


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- Cotton Creek Capital acquired Landpoint, a Bossier City, La.-based provider of geospatial services. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

- Sun Capital Partners, Inc. acquired Cotton Holdings,  a Katy, Texas-based infrastructure support services company for public and private entities.  Financial terms weren't disclosed. 

- Sheridan Capital Partners made an investment in Tarrytown Expocare, an Austin, Texas-based long-term care pharmacy. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 


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Warburg Pincus agreed to acquire Sundyne, an Arvada, Colo.-based company that manufactures mission critical flow control equipment. Sellers include BC Partners Advisors L.P. and The Carlyle Group. Financial terms weren't disclosed. 


- Vineeta Agarwala joined Andreessen Horowitz as a general partner on the bio fund.

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- Silversmith Capital Partners promoted Marc Munfa to operating partner, Nikhil Marathe to principal, - and Lyndsay Kerwin and Jay Leventhal to vice president. 

- OpenGate Capital promoted Aaron Figura to principal.

- Surge Private Equity named Thiago Farias as vice president.

- Ara Partners Group promoted Johanna Schmidtke to managing director. 

-  LLR Partners promoted Sasank Aleti and Michael Levenberg to partner.

-  Silversmith Capital Partners promoted Marc Munfa to operating partner, Nikhil Marathe to principal, and Lyndsay Kerwin and Jay Leventhal to vice president.


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