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Friday, October 7, 2022

Senate Republicans were briefed by TikTok on how it intends to keep American data out of China’s hands

In a letter dated Thursday, TikTok provided more details to lawmakers in the United States about how it plans to keep data about its American users separate from that of ByteDance, the Chinese parent organization of the video app. The purpose of the letter was to combat concerns that the video app poses a risk to the national security of the United States.

Shou Zi Chew, the chief executive officer of TikTok, recently sent a letter to nine Republican senators in which he detailed the company’s plan to run the app on servers managed by Oracle, a major cloud computing provider in the United States. According to Mr. Chew, TikTok would be operated using the machinery owned by the American corporation and checked by an outside party. A proposal to keep the personal information of TikTok customers in the United States with Oracle rather than on TikTok’s servers was also reaffirmed by him.

The letter, which was written by Mr. Chew and was acquired by The New York Times, states: “We realise we are among the most scrutinised platforms from a security viewpoint, and we seek to erase any question regarding the protection of U.S. user data.”

TikTok, which is very well-known for the short movies it makes that go viral and are often used to create memes, has been trying to dispel rumours that it poses a threat to national security. Critics of the application have voiced concerns about TikTok being susceptible to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party for a number of years now. Their primary concern is that the Chinese government would make direct data requests to ByteDance on American users.

In the year 2020, President Donald J. Trump expressed such concerns and requested that ByteDance sell TikTok if the programme was to stay available in American app shops. TikTok had previously been banned from American app stores. Later on, his government made an announcement on a deal in which ByteDance would sell at least a portion of TikTok to Oracle; however, the transaction was never completed.

TikTok is still being investigated by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is a consortium of government organisations that investigates potential acquisitions of American businesses by foreign buyers.

BuzzFeed News revealed a month ago that employees of ByteDance had obtained access to the app’s data as late as this year, and that staff were having difficulty separating information gathered by the app from other information that they had access to.

Following the publication of the article, nine Republican senators, including Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and John Thune of South Dakota, contacted TikTok to inquire about the company’s business policies and procedures. TikTok was recommended to be removed from both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store by a member of the Federal Communications Commission one month ago.

ByteDance personnel in China would only have access to TikTok data if they were “subject to a number of stringent cybersecurity controls and authorised approval mechanisms reviewed by our U.S.-based security team,” Mr. Chew said in his letter of response to the Republican senators.

He also reaffirmed the company’s expectation that it would soon be able to remove any data pertaining to the United States from its servers and instead keep all of the information with Oracle. (BuzzFeed was the first to report on some of the specifics of the company’s ambitions.)

However, Mr. Chew also made it very clear that staff of ByteDance based in China will continue to work on the TikTok project. Even while Oracle would “guarantee that training of the TikTok algorithm” only takes place on its servers, those personnel will still be able to create the algorithm that provides tailored video recommendations to TikTok’s viewers, he added.

To “ensure global interoperability” and “provide our U.S. users, creators, brands, and merchants with the same rich and safe TikTok experience as global users,” he wrote that certain information, such as public videos and comments, would continue to be accessible to employees of ByteDance under conditions approved by the U.S. government. This information includes videos that are available to the public.

Ms. Blackburn said in a statement that she released on Friday that the letter sent by Mr. Chew demonstrated her concerns over the influence of the Chinese Communist Party on the corporation “were well grounded.”

“The Chinese-run corporation ought to have spoken forthright from the beginning, but it sought to cloak its work in secret,” she said, adding that TikTok was had to appear before Congress once again.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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