Chinese Company Behind TikTok to Make Computer Chips

Tik Tok
NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images

ByteDance, the Chinese corporation that owns the video microblogging platform TikTok, announced this week that it will begin designing and producing its own computer chips with an eye toward chipsets that will maximize the performance of the company’s video software.

“Our R&D team will work on the optimization of hardware used to power the company’s video technologies including video codec, cloud inference acceleration and others,” said ByteDance vice president Yang Zehyuan, as quoted by China’s state-run Global Times Wednesday.

Yang went on to say that ByteDance is primarily interested in developing chips for itself, to replace stock chips it currently procures from third parties, and has “no plan to develop chips for sale.”

Shouzi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., during an interview at the TikTok office in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok has emerged as the top challenger to the social media dominance of Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. (Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg/Getty)

Other Chinese tech giants have previously announced their own chipmaking plans, including telecom giant Huawei, which was banned from the United States and allied nations over the past few years due to fears its hardware could be compromised by Chinese military intelligence.

A Huawei internal memo recently admitted the bans have seriously affected its business model. One reason is that Huawei was blacklisted from buying American-made computer chips, a ban the Biden administration partially reversed last summer.

“To develop their own chips will help the tech companies build their own ecosystem,” Chinese tech industry analyst Liu Dingding told the Global Times, which noted the Chinese government launched a major effort in June to “attract more investment” into the chip-making industry “amid a broadening U.S. government crackdown.”

A ByteDance spokesperson confirmed to CNBC Monday that the company is “exploring chips-design for its own use in specialized fields because it hasn’t been able to find suppliers that can meet its requirements.”

“The chips will be customized to deal with workloads related to ByteDance’s multiple business areas including video platforms, information and entertainment apps,” the spokesperson said.

Some big Western tech companies have also developed their own custom chips, including Amazon, Facebook, and Google. All of those corporations are producing their own machine learning and artificial intelligence chips, plus specialized chips for applications like video processing.

ByteDance chips might not find much demand outside China if the company did decide to sell them, as TikTok is constantly criticized for spying on its users and sending their data to Beijing. TikTok has also been accused of using its content curation algorithms to push inappropriate, and even dangerous, content at young users.


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