TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and
Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill
on March 23, 2023 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
TikTok is still storing Americans’ data on overseas servers, potentially placing it at risk of being accessed and exploited by China’s communist regime.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified on the matter during a March 23 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the subject of TikTok’s data privacy practices and ties to China.
“Today, there is still some data that we need to delete [from overseas servers],” Chew said.
“I believe we will be able to get it done this year.”
The issue of TikTok’s data practices largely stems from concern about its links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through parent company ByteDance, a Beijing-based tech giant.
ByteDance is subject to CCP laws that require all data controlled by Chinese companies to be surrendered to the regime upon request. ByteDance also maintains a CCP committee as part of its corporate structure, which is also required by Chinese law.
Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said that TikTok’s ties to the CCP through ByteDance were an unacceptable national security risk, and that TikTok could be used to conduct influence operations or espionage for the regime.
“CCP laws require Chinese companies like ByteDance to spy on their behalf,” Rodgers said. “That means any Chinese company must grant the CCP access and manipulation capabilities as a design feature.”
“TikTok surveils us all and the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole. We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values.”
TikTok Claims New Project will Secure US Data
For its part, TikTok has proposed to undertake an initiative called “Project Texas,” in which it will store all of its U.S. user data on Oracle-based cloud infrastructure in the United States.
Chew described the effort as “American data stored on American soil by an American company and overseen by American personnel.”
“The company plans to begin the process of deleting non-public historical U.S. user data this month and anticipates that the process will be completed this year,” Chew said.
Chew confirmed that employees of Douyin, the heavily-censored sister app of TikTok available in China, can currently access U.S. user data and would continue to be able to do so until Project Texas is completed.
He also acknowledged that even should Project Texas succeed, “legacy U.S. data” in Singapore would not be deleted until much later.
“To be clear, until that user data transfer happens, user data remains accessible to the Chinese Communist Party,” said Rep. John Joyce (R-Ohio).
Joyce’s comments highlighted the crux of much national security concern about TikTok in Washington, where there is increasing concern that TikTok parent company ByteDance is effectively an extension of the CCP.
Experts say there is mounting evidence to support that claim.
A March 14 report presented to the Australian government, for example, found that ByteDance is a “party-state-controlled entity,” and that its employees have used both ByteDance and TikTok’s data to conduct illicit operations against U.S. citizens.
TikTok executives and employees have acknowledged that TikTok was used as a “blunt instrument” to censor content critical of the regime and, in 2021 TikTok paid $92 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that the company illegally harvested Americans’ data and transferred that data to China-based entities.
In 2022, TikTok employees said that key company decisions appeared to be delegated to ByteDance by CCP officials in China before being delivered to TikTok.
To that end, Chew, who previously served as the Chief Financial Officer for ByteDance, acknowledged that he was in regular communication with ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo, to whom he still reports directly.
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