TikTok, the Chinese mini-video music app, has hit the big time, registering one billion downloads on iOS and Android globally.

The figures come from the data insights company Sensor Tower, which points out the app is now looking like a serious challenger to Facebook and Instagram for social media dominance.

The numbers also mean it’s the first Chinese social media platform to go truly global.

The data reveals not only the overall popularity of the app, but also the speed of its growth.

“Approximately 663 million of these installs occurred in 2018,” Sensor Tower founder Oliver Yeh said in a blog post. “To put this into perspective, the Facebook app was installed an estimated 711 million times last year and Instagram saw about 444 million new downloads.”

The app, which lets users record themselves lip-synching to popular music and share the 15-second clips with friends, has less brand recognition in the west so far, but is widely known elsewhere, especially in Asia.

The app was created by ByteDance, which has been privately valued at $75bn according to a Reuters report – a figure that puts it on a par with some of the country’s biggest tech outfits.

TikTok, though, has not been without controversy and was recently attacked as a “hunting ground” for abusers.

Last week it was fined a record $5.7m by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly illegally collecting personal information from children.

The total number of downloads includes an estimated 136.3m in China, where TikTok has also faced criticism for inappropriate content, and the company’s founder and CE Zhang Yiming has increased to 10,000 the number of people monitoring the platform and censoring inappropriate content.

“Scaling content moderation along the app’s rapid growth will pose a significant challenge and how it’s handled will determine if it can retain advertisers,” observed Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at Sensor Tower.

Overall, ByteDance, which also owns news aggregator app Toutiao, now has some 50,000 employees, according to reports, which is more than either Facebook or Tencent.

“What it tells me is ByteDance is less of a tech company but more of a content creative company because they have figured out what the hook is that will really attract viewers,” one rival executive told the FT. “By contrast Instagram is just a broadcaster.”

Sourced from Sensor Tower, Reuters, CNET, Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff