TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said in a speech before the US Congress today that the service plans to remove all US user data from its servers by the end of the year. Chu described an initiative by a company called Project Texas to move US user data to Oracle servers in the US, where the data would be monitored by US personnel.
The plan is part of a broader TikTok program to prevent the US government from banning the app for national security reasons. The service, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is also trying to convince Congress that its app includes a number of safeguards to protect young users and provide additional income opportunities for US developers and small businesses.
At Project Texas in particular, TikTok’s mission is to create what Chu called “fire wall”, which isolates sensitive data from US users from unauthorized outside access, particularly from China. Project Texas owes its name to the state of Texas where Oracle is headquartered. TikTok’s overall plans for Project Texas were outlined in a letter to Republican senators back in the summer of 2022. The letter was in response to a petition to Congress that claimed certain officials in China had access to US TikTok users’ data.
Chu assured the senators that the company plans to wipe data from its servers this year. “Today, American TikTok data is stored on Oracle servers by default, Chu said. — Only verified personnel working for a new company called TikTok US Data Security can control access to this data. This company will report to an independent US board of directors. We have outdated US data on servers in Virginia and Singapore. We plan to remove them this year. When this is done, all US data will be protected by US law.”.
Show Zi Chu was also interrogated on other aspects of data security and was unable to answer all questions directly and exhaustively. Notably after initially pledging not to sell data to brokers, he dodged the question of whether TikTok had previously sold user data. He was also reluctant to say whether Project Texas would completely separate American TikTok from its Chinese parent company due to the interconnectedness of technologies. When asked if TikTok employees in China would have access to US data, Chu replied, “After “Project Texas” … no‘, indirectly confirming that such access now exists.
Senators also questioned whether ByteDance’s Chinese employees are subject to Chinese law, including the National Intelligence Act of 2017, which requires any organization or individual to cooperate with China’s state intelligence agency. The Zi Chu Showinitially declined to answer, noting that “Like many companies, including many US companies, we rely on a global workforce, including engineers in China.”and after being asked to give a direct answer, replied: “In the past yes, but we are building ‘Project Texas’ and aiming to secure all data behind a firewall”.