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TikTok seeks to calm US lawmakers’ fears about data security

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Chinese-owned social media site TikTok told US senators it was working on a final agreement with the Biden Administration that might “fully safeguard user data and US national security interests,” in line with a TikTok letter seen Friday by Reuters.

The letter dated Thursday got here in response to questions raised in a June 27 letter by a couple of senators including Republicans Marsha Blackburn and Ted Cruz, TikTok said.

TikTok, owned by Chinese technology conglomerate ByteDance, is one in all the world’s hottest social media apps, with greater than 1 billion lively users globally. It counts the US as its largest market.

TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew told senators in the letter the short video app was working with Oracle on “latest advanced data security controls that we hope to finalize within the near future.”

Last month, TikTok said it had accomplished migrating US users’ information to servers at Oracle but it surely was still using US and Singapore data centers for backup.

TikTok’s letter acknowledged that China-based employees “can have access to TikTok US user data subject to a series of sturdy cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.”

TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew, left, told lawmakers he hopes to finalize security controls within the near future.WireImage

TikTok said it expected “to delete US users’ protected data from our own systems and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers positioned within the US”

TikTok has sent a response to the senators’ letter, an organization spokesperson said in a press release to Reuters. “We look ahead to connecting with members of Congress to debate the substance of our letter.”

TikTok is working to construct US-based engineering capability to further reduce the necessity for data access across regions, the spokesperson added.

Senator Blackburn, of Tennessee, said TikTok “must have come clean from the beginning but as a substitute tried to shroud their work in secrecy.” She said TikTok must “come back and testify before Congress.”

The TikTok letter got here nearly two years after a US national security panel ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok due to fears that US user data may very well be passed on to China’s communist government.

That order was not enforced after Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump as US president last 12 months. The panel, nevertheless, referred to as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS), remains to be conducting a national security review of the corporate, in line with the letter.

“We all know we’re amongst probably the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint and we aim to remove any doubt concerning the security of US user data,” the letter said.

TikTok has said up to now that employees in China have data access to US user data. In a 2020 blogpost Roland Cloutier, TikTok’s chief information security officer, said, “Our goal is to reduce data access across regions in order that, for instance, employees within the APAC region, including China, would have very minimal access to user data from the EU and US.”

A BuzzFeed story in June showed ByteDance engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022.

Shared algorithms

The letter also said “ByteDance developed the algorithms for each Douyin and TikTok, and subsequently a number of the same underlying basic technology constructing blocks are utilized by each products.” TikTok is referred to as Douyin in China.

But TikTok’s business logic, algorithm, integration and deployment of systems is particular to the TikTok application and separate from Douyin, the letter said.

Reuters previously reported that while the code for the app, which determines the feel and appear of TikTok, has been separated from Douyin, the server code was still partially shared across other ByteDance products. The server code provides basic functionality of the apps akin to data storage, algorithms for moderating and recommending content and the management of user profiles. 

The Chinese government took a stake and a board seat in a key ByteDance entity in 2021. 

TikTok explained in its letter to the senators that its acquisition of 1% of Beijing Douyin Information Service Ltd was obligatory to acquire a news license in China.

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