A group of high-profile TikTok content creators announced today that they’re decamping from the platform and moving to a competing short-form video app. But it’s not just a matter of posting to a different app. The four TikTok stars–Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, Noah Beck, and Anthony Reeves–have been brought on as investors, advisors, and executives at Triller, a L.A.-based competitor to TikTok.
Together, the four creators have an audience of nearly 47 million users, the Los Angeles Times reports, which makes their departure from the platform significant–particularly if they’re able to bring a substantial number of those fans with them to their new project.
Launched in 2015–two years before TikTok, and three years before the merger with Musical.ly that catalyzed TikTok’s adoption in the U.S.–Triller has historically been tied to the music industry, and boasts a star-studded list of investors, including Snoop Dogg, Young Thug, and Kendrick Lamar. The service was designed, in part, to deliver streaming fees and royalties to artists and rights holders of music used in fan videos.
Triller is compensating Richards, Johnson, Beck, and Reeves, though the details of the deals are undisclosed. Despite that, the creators say they’re leaving TikTok because they’ve grown wary of the Chinese-owned company’s security practices.
“After seeing the U.S. and other countries’ governments’ concerns over TikTok—and given my responsibility to protect and lead my followers and other influencers—I followed my instincts as an entrepreneur and made it my mission to find a solution,” Richards told the Times. The 18-year-old will take on the role of Chief Strategy Officer at Triller.
TikTok has long been accused of questionable practices, but the drumbeat of criticism has grown dramatically in recent months. Wells Fargo and both the DNC and RNC have issued rules prohibiting staff from installing the app on company phones. Amazon reportedly made a similar recommendation to employees, but the company quickly recanted.
Mike Pompeo gave an interview to Fox News early in July in which he asserted that the app puts user’s private information “into the hands of the Chinese Community Party.” The platform has even found its way into Donald Trump’s sights, with the president’s reelection campaign running ads on Facebook encouraging supports to sign a petition calling for the app to be banned.
Betsy Cooper, director of the Silicon Valley-based technology policy incubator Aspen Policy Hub, told CNET that TikTok may be worth investigating since “there will always be concerns when apps from foreign companies collect large amounts of user data,” but added that “it’s unclear how much effort the administration will put into actually investigating the seriousness of the specific security concerns with the app, versus using this as a threat for broader geopolitical leverage.”