Popular social media platform TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, is testing a new artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot that could soon roll out in the United States.
The bot, named “Tako,” can chat with TikTok users about short videos and assist them in finding content by taking into account their interests and preferences, Daniel Buchuk, an analyst for app intelligence firm Watchful, told Bloomberg. TikTok has attracted scrutiny from lawmakers as the platform’s parent company ByteDance is based in China and has ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while the company has reportedly violated privacy and censored conversations, prompting lawmakers to pursue restrictions.
“Tako is an experimental chatbot. It can answer questions, and have conversations with you,” a disclaimer screenshot Watchful shared with TechCrunch states. “All conversations will be reviewed for safety purposes and to enhance your experience. Please do not share your private information with Tako.”
Screenshots and video Watchful provided to Reuters revealed the chatbot is prominently displayed on the app’s screen and featured as a ghost icon; users may tap it while viewing videos and start an instant messaging conversation with Tako and ask it questions, according to Bloomberg.
While other tech companies such as Snapchat, Microsoft, and Google have produced chatbots, TikTok’s chatbot may encounter heightened scrutiny due to its association to China through its parent company ByteDance, according to Bloomberg. The U.S. government, media outlets and whistleblowers have all flagged concerns with this relationship.
In a 2020 legal filing, the Justice Department described Zhang Yiming, one of the founders of ByteDance, as a “mouthpiece” for the CCP.
ByteDance spied on journalist Emily Baker-White after she covered TikTok for Forbes in 2022, the publication reported.
ByteDance also monitors content related to the Chinese government, trade between China and the U.S., the persecuted ethnic minority group Uyghurs, former President Donald Trump and TikTok competitor YouTube, according to documents obtained by Forbes. Over 50 of the lists ByteDance uses to track content contain the term “TikTok” in their title, but TikTok told Forbes they had never applied the lists on their platform.
TikTok employees in China had access to a list of users who were consuming LGBT-related content on the platform for a year or more, according to former employees who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.
Tako will not be available to minors, according to Buchuk.
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok in May as lawmakers have expressed a desire to clamp down on the platform due to concerns of sharing data with the Chinese government, according to Bloomberg. TikTok sued Montana on Monday.
“We’re always exploring new technologies that add value to our community,” a TikTok spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “In select markets, we’re testing new ways to power search and discovery on TikTok, and we look forward to learning from our community as we continue to create a safe place that entertains, inspires creativity, and drives culture.”
TikTok submitted a trademark application for “TikTok Tako” to the U.S. patent and trademark office in April, according to Reuters.
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