TikTok’s general counsel, Erich Andersen, has defended the social media platform’s plan to protect US user data from China amid increasing scrutiny from Washington that could lead to a potential ban. Andersen said that ByteDance’s approach is to make it physically impossible for any government, including the Chinese government, to gain access to US user data. However, Andersen acknowledged that there is a long way to go with the application, which is still in the startup phase.
The FBI, CIA, and other government agencies have expressed concern that ByteDance could be forced to give user data to Beijing under Chinese laws that compel companies to cooperate with the government for matters involving national security. To address these concerns, TikTok has proposed Project Texas, a $1.5 billion plan to store all US user data on servers owned and maintained by Oracle.
TikTok claims that it has never been requested to turn over any data and will not do so if asked. The company started deleting all historic US user data from non-Oracle servers this month, and migrating the data to Oracle will keep it out of China’s hands. Despite skepticism about the project, TikTok says it is moving forward anyway. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said that China-based employees may still have access to the data before the process wraps up.
Andersen argued that a ban on TikTok would be “basically giving up” and a statement that “we aren’t creative enough to find another way.” However, lawmakers have been pushing bills that would effectively ban TikTok or give the administration more authority to do so. The RESTRICT Act, which has garnered broad bipartisan support in the Senate and backing from the White House, is one such bill.
China’s opposition to a possible sale makes it more difficult for TikTok to position itself and ByteDance as a global enterprise instead of a Chinese company. Nevertheless, the company plans to continue developing its new app called Lemon8 and will comply with US law.
TikTok’s popularity has exploded over the past few years, but concerns over its Chinese ownership have led to increasing scrutiny. Last year, former President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the US, citing national security concerns. The Trump administration also pressured ByteDance to sell TikTok to a US company. Oracle and Walmart entered into a deal to buy a stake in TikTok, but it was ultimately abandoned.
TikTok has faced regulatory challenges in other countries as well. In June, the app was banned in India along with dozens of other Chinese apps following a border clash between the two countries. The app was also temporarily banned in Pakistan last year over “immoral and indecent” content.
As the US government continues to scrutinize TikTok’s data security practices, the company will likely face more pressure to demonstrate its commitment to protecting user data.