The Japan operator of the popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok said Monday it has paid social media influencers to spread certain videos on Twitter without informing viewers about the payments.

The Japan office of ByteDance Ltd. is believed to have spread TikTok videos handpicked by the company through the influencers to raise recognition levels of the app in a strategy that could be considered as stealth marketing. It is believed viewers could have mistaken those videos as ordinary posts by general social media users.

The company said the practice, which had been in place until last December, of paying influencers to upload specific videos was not aimed at increasing the number of the app's downloads and therefore it thought that it was not obliged to clarify that the videos were intended for public relations activities.

The Japan office declined to disclose the amount and the period of payments, citing contracts with the social media influencers.

The operator said in a statement the measure it took could mislead app users and other people concerned and that it will take necessary measures to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

According to U.S. research firm Sensor Tower Inc., worldwide downloads of the TikTok app, which lets users upload short videos set to music and is especially popular among young people, reached 3 billion by July 2021.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump banned major China-based mobile apps including TikTok in August 2020 on national security grounds, saying the apps automatically capture vast amounts of information from users.

In June 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden reversed executive orders issued by his predecessor, though he did seek an assessment of the risk associated with foreign adversary connected software applications.