TikTok has committed to deleting all of its U.S. user data by the end of the year. The statement was made by TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, to the U.S. Congress this week.
Chew was speaking to Congress in response to the U.S. Government’s concerns about national security. This is because TikTok is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance. Under Chinese law, the Chinese Communist Party can force companies to hand over information to it. Back in December 2022, we also reported that ByteDance had admitted that some of its employees used the app to access the data of two U.S. journalists.
The U.S. government’s concerns
Prior to Chew’s appearance before Congress, the U.S. government had already taken steps to limit TikTok use. For example, governors in 19 U.S. states have already banned anyone with a state-owned device from using the app. The U.S. Senate has also passed a bill to prohibit the app from being installed on government devices. In addition, it has been reported that the U.S. government has demanded that ByteDance sells TikTok. If it doesn’t, then the app could be banned in the U.S.
How has TikTok responded?
Chew told Congress about Project Texas. This is TikTok’s plan to remove all U.S. user data from the company’s servers. Instead, the data is now being stored in the U.S. and on servers run by U.S. company Oracle. In addition, the data will be managed by American Personnel.
What did Chew say?
TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew said: “Today, U.S. TikTok data is stored by default in Oracle’s service. Only vetted personnel operating in a new company called TikTok U.S. Data Security can control access to this data. Now additionally, we have plans for this company to report to an independent American board with strong security credentials”. Chew admitted that there were legacy U.S. data on TikTok’s servers in Virginia and in Singapore. However, he confirmed that data was scheduled to be deleted by the end of the year. Chew went on to say: “When that is done, all protected U.S. data will be under the protection of U.S. law and under the control of the U.S.-led security team.”
What we think
The statements by TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, were a response to the concerns that user data can be subject to Chinese law. It’s no secret that most, if not all, social media companies harvest user data to sell or use for marketing purposes. However, the specific concern around TikTok relates to laws in China, meaning the Chinese Government may demand access to TikTok’s data. Therefore it’s unlikely that Chew’s assurances to Congress will be enough to allay the U.S. Government’s fears. Last month FBI director Christopher Wray described TikTok as “a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese government.” He added, “And to me, it screams out with national security concerns.” As such, it looks like the future of TikTok in the U.S. is still uncertain.