TikTok gave US lawmakers more details in a letter dated Thursday on how it plans to keep data about its US users separate from ByteDance, its Chinese parent company, in order to combat concerns that the video app poses a risk to the public. national security.
In a letter to nine Republican senators, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew explained how the company would run the app from servers controlled by Oracle, the US cloud computing giant. TikTok would run from the US company’s machines and would be audited by a third party, Chew said. He also reiterated a plan to store US users’ personal information in Oracle, rather than on TikTok’s servers.
“We know we are among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and our goal is to remove any doubts about the security of US user data,” Chew wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times.
TikTok, which is hugely popular for its short, viral meme-making videos, has been working to refute concerns that it is a national security risk. For years, critics of the app worried that the Chinese government was requesting data belonging to Americans directly from ByteDance and that TikTok was subject to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.
In 2020, President Donald J. Trump cited those concerns and demanded that ByteDance sell TikTok if the app remained in US app stores. His management later announced a deal in which ByteDance would sell at least part of TikTok to Oracle, though the transaction never went through.
TikTok remains under the scrutiny of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a group of government agencies that scrutinizes foreign purchases of American companies.
Last month, BuzzFeed News reported that ByteDance employees had gained access to the app’s data as recently as this year and that employees were struggling to cordon off information collected by the app.
Following the report, nine Republican senators, including Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and John Thune of South Dakota, wrote to TikTok with questions about its practices. Last month, a member of the Federal Communications Commission also said that Apple and Google should remove TikTok from their app stores.
In Mr. Chew’s letter in response to Republican senators, he said ByteDance employees in China would be able to access TikTok data only when “subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and overseen authorization approval protocols.” by our US-based security team.”
He also reiterated the company’s hope that it would soon be able to remove the US data from its servers and store the information entirely in Oracle. (Some details of his plans were first reported by BuzzFeed.)
“We have not spoken publicly about these plans out of respect for the confidentiality of the engagement with the US government, but circumstances now require that we publicly share some of that information to clarify errors and misconceptions in the article and some concerns. ongoing related. to other aspects of our business,” he said.
But Mr. Chew also made it clear that ByteDance employees in China would continue to work on TikTok. Those employees can still develop the algorithm that feeds personalized video recommendations to TikTok users, he said, though Oracle would “ensure that training of the TikTok algorithm” occurs only on its servers.
And certain information, such as videos and public comments, would remain available to ByteDance employees under conditions approved by the US government, he wrote, to “ensure global interoperability so that our US users, creators, brands and merchants US have the same rich and safe TikTok. experience as global users”.