TikTok CEO claims China-based ByteDance workers still have access to certain U.S. data

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told US legislators that workers in China at the app's parent firm, ByteDance, may still have access to certain U.S. data.

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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told US legislators that China-based workers at its parent company ByteDance may still have access to certain U.S. data from the app, but that this would no longer be the case after Project Texas, the firm’s risk mitigation strategy, is completed.

The interaction is noteworthy because it addresses US authorities’ concerns about TikTok’s ownership while also demonstrating how difficult and time-consuming it can be to untangle the app from its Chinese parent business.

Lawmakers and intelligence officials are concerned that ByteDance might end up in the hands of the Chinese government. As CNBC noted, Chinese legislation authorizes the government to seek inside information from enterprises operating in the country for ostensibly national security reasons.

Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, questioned Chew during his much-anticipated appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee whether any ByteDance employee in China could now access U.S. data.

“The answer is no after Project Texas is completed,” Chew added. “There is still some data that we need to delete today.”

Later in the session, in an interaction with Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., Chew denied sharing U.S. data with the Chinese Communist Party, claiming TikTok is a “private business” that depends on a “global workforce” like many others.

In response to a request for comment last week over a remark made in a Wall Street Journal story claiming TikTok is a Chinese espionage operation, a TikTok spokeswoman claimed in a statement that the allegation had “no truth.”

“Since October of 2022, all new U.S. user data has been stored exclusively in the Oracle Cloud Environment, with protected data fully out of reach of any foreign government,” the spokesman stated at the time. 

That data is solely maintained by U.S. Data Security, a TikTok subsidiary comprised of Americans, headed and based in the United States, whose primary objective is to safeguard U.S. national security interests by protecting U.S. user data and preventing foreign manipulation of our systems.”

TikTok said on Thursday that Project Texas is already in operation, but it will take several stages to complete. This includes erasing data from TikTok’s servers in Singapore and Virginia, which started last week. For the time being, the data on those servers may conceivably still be accessible by ByteDance personnel in China.

According to TikTok, after that data is erased, those workers will no longer have access to U.S. user data from the app.

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