China-Owned TikTok Is Racing To Move User Data To The US

China-owned social media platform TikTok has launched a project called Project Texas to address concerns related to the Chinese government’s access to Americans’ personal information. The project aims to relocate user data to the US, thereby making it more challenging for the Chinese government to retrieve it. However, this data transfer does not address other potential issues, such as the manipulation of TikTok’s algorithms to promote divisive content or the spread of disinformation campaigns.

Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes that the Chinese government’s influence over TikTok’s algorithms poses a more significant concern than data exfiltration. He argues that there are various other ways through which the Chinese government can obtain the same data. Segal points to instances where the Chinese Communist Party has used technology to manipulate digital discourse, including TikTok’s previous censorship of speech that harmed China’s “national honor.”

TikTok has vehemently denied allegations of current censorship of critical speech about China. The company’s Trust & Safety team, responsible for content policies, claims to operate independently from ByteDance, TikTok’s corporate owner, and have limited contact with Beijing. However, the reporting structure within TikTok raises questions about its independence from the Chinese government.

US lawmakers have expressed concerns about TikTok beyond data storage. They argue that under Chinese law, TikTok and ByteDance can be compelled to cooperate with Chinese Communist Party-controlled intelligence activities. At a Senate hearing, TikTok’s Head of Public Policy for the Americas confirmed that ByteDance employees based in China have access to TikTok’s algorithm.

Similar concerns about TikTok’s ties to China have been raised by lawmakers in other nations as well. In response to a clash on the India-China border, the Indian government banned TikTok and other Chinese apps. Australia has also investigated TikTok’s potential security threat, while Ireland’s Data Protection Commission is examining how TikTok transfers user data outside the European Union.

The success of Project Texas in the US could set an example for TikTok in other countries and serve as a model for other companies facing similar concerns. Graham Webster, editor-in-chief of the Stanford-New America DigiChina Project, believes that TikTok is being closely monitored by lawmakers who are cautious about foreign companies collecting citizen data. He remains optimistic because ByteDance has a strong incentive to address regulators’ concerns.

What do you think?

Written by Western Reader

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