Skip to main content

ByteDance is secretly using OpenAI’s tech to build a competitor

ByteDance is secretly using OpenAI’s tech to build a competitor


‘They really just don’t want to get caught.’ The frenzied race to win in generative AI means that even the biggest players are cutting corners.

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

An illustration of ByteDance’s logo
The logo for ByteDance, which owns TikTok.
Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

TikTok’s entrancing “For You” feed made its parent company, ByteDance, an AI leader on the world stage. But that same company is now so behind in the generative AI race that it has been secretly using OpenAI’s technology to develop its own competing large language model, or LLM.

This practice is generally considered a faux pas in the AI world. It’s also in direct violation of OpenAI’s terms of service, which state that its model output can’t be used “to develop any artificial intelligence models that compete with our products and services.” Microsoft, which ByteDance is buying its OpenAI access through, has the same policy. Nevertheless, internal ByteDance documents shared with me confirm that the OpenAI API has been relied on to develop its foundational LLM, codenamed Project Seed, during nearly every phase of development, including for training and evaluating the model. 

Employees involved are well aware of the implications; I’ve seen conversations on Lark, ByteDance’s internal communication platform for employees, about how to “whitewash” the evidence through “data desensitization.” The misuse is so rampant that Project Seed employees regularly hit their max allowance for API access. 

Start your Command Line free trial now to continue reading

This story is exclusively for subscribers of Command Line, our newsletter about the tech industry’s inside conversation. Subscribe to a plan below for full access.

Already a Command Line subscriber?Sign in

We accept credit card, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Having issues?Click here for FAQ