TikTok has confirmed its China-based employees can access US user data, according to a letter written by CEO Shou Zi Chew.
The letter is addressed to nine Republican Senators who raised concerns about privacy data following a recent BuzzFeed News investigation that found such issues.
Chew’s note also confirmed TikTok’s ‘Project Texas’ program, named in the BuzzFeed News report, saying it aims to safeguard US user data by running TikTok from servers in Texas owned by Oracle.
However, the CEO wrote that the ‘allegations and insinuations’ from the BuzzFeed News article are ‘incorrect and are not supported by facts.’
TikTok has confirmed its China-based employees can access US user data, according to a letter written by CEO Shou Zi Chew. The letter is addressed to nine Republican Senators who raised concerns about data privacy following a recent BuzzFeed News investigation
The letter from TikTok does not clearly state US user data has been or can be accessed by employees outside of the country, but it answers 11 questions that the senators requested answers to by July 18.
‘[W]e are confident that when you review our responses, you will see that TikTok has not, at any point, misled Congress about our data and security controls and practices,’ Chew wrote.
The BuzzFeed News report, published on June 17, claims to have listened to leaked audio of more than 80 internal TikTok meetings.
The recordings, which were captured from September 2021 through January 2022, include 14 statements from nine TikTok employees who met to discuss ‘Project Texas’ – the classified effort to stop engineers in China from retrieving the data.
On June 28, Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), posted on Twitter urging Apple and Google to remove TikTok ‘from their app stores for its pattern of surreptitious data practices
An audio clip is of a director at TikTok who referred to a ByteDance engineer as a ‘Master Admin’ who ‘has access to everything’, according to BuzzFeed News.
One of the 11 questions in the Senators’ letter askes if China-based employees have or had access to US user data, which Chew said such staff ‘can have access.’
This is possible through a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols, according to TikTok’s letter.
Chew reiterates the implementation of Project Texas, noting that this program was specifically designed to stop such access.
The letter also states that employees can access non-sensitive data, such as public videos and comments, but notes access to this content is extremely limited.
Chew also tells the senators that TikTok’s algorithm will only be trained on data from the Oracle storage and the company will ‘ensure appropriate third-party security vetting and validation of the algorithm, he wrote.
Senator Marsha Blackburn told NBC News that Chew’s response confirms fears that their ‘fears regarding [Chinese Communist Party] influence within the company are
‘They should have come clean from the start but instead tried to shroud their work in secrecy,’ Blackburn, a Republican, continued.
‘Americans need to know that if they are on TikTok, Communist China has their information. TikTok needs to come back and testify before Congress.’
US government officials have believed TikTok ‘is spying’ on Americans, but they cannot ignore the issue now that BuzzFeed released its report.
On June 28, Brendan Carr, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), posted on Twitter urging Apple and Google to remove TikTok ‘from their app stores for its pattern of surreptitious data practices.’
Carr included a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook, expressing why TikTok needs to be removed, citing a report from last week that ‘shed fresh light on the serious national security threats posed by TikTok.
And he is giving the tech giants until July 8 to remove TikTok or explain why they chose not comply.