- The largest social media platform in the US is moving US user’s data to servers run by Oracle in a bid to choke claims that China has access to it.
- “Project Texas” is the internal name for TikTok’s mammoth IT plan, which will see the company move data from its Virginia and Singapore hubs to a new cloud infrastructure in the US run by Oracle.
- TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew claims that no foreign government has asked TikTok for user data before but doubts remain, not least because reports keep surfacing of TikTok employees routing US data to China.
With more than 1.6 billion monthly active users, TikTok is by some margin the largest and most influential social media platform. But its Chinese ownership continues to concern politicians on both sides of the aisle.
In a rare public address, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew explained how his business was responding by shifting the data of all its US users to data centers in the US under lock and key.
“Project Texas” is the internal name for TikTok’s mammoth IT plan, which will see the company move data from its Virginia and Singapore hubs to a new cloud infrastructure in the United States run by Oracle, which is headquartered in Texas. The deal is supposed to guard US users’ data in Oracles servers, barring access from China.
“We take all these concerns seriously, we study them, we have been working with [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] to solve what we think is a very solvable problem,” Chew said at the New York Times’ 2022 DealBook summit, as reported by Nilay Patel at The Verge.
The system is “expensive to build, and it’s challenging to do it, but we are doing it to address these concerns,” he added.
TikTok has faced years of criticism for potentially exposing the data of US users to China. In 2020, former President Donald Trump threatened TikTok with a nationwide ban and attempted to force the company into separating its US-based assets from ByteDance, calling it a threat to national security.
Those worries are unlikely to go away. Recent reports claimed TikTok employees based in China have “repeatedly” accessed US users’ data over the course of at least several months.
In recordings of internal staff meetings and presentations obtained by BuzzFeed News, TikTok employees reportedly mentioned having to ask their colleagues in China to access US user data, as they weren’t able to access this data themselves.
BuzzFeed’s Emily Baker-White quoted Albert Calamug, the head of TikTok’s US security and public policy, as saying that TikTok will use its Virginia and Singapore-based servers for backups, but it aims to delete users’ private data from these servers in order to “fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US.”
It’s unclear when TikTok plans on making a complete shift to Oracle’s servers.
“We know we are among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data,” Calamug said.
READ MORE: Leaked Audio From 80 Internal TikTok Meetings Shows That US User Data Has Been Repeatedly Accessed From China (BuzzFeed)
Chew claimed that “no foreign government has asked us for user data before, and if they did we would say no.”
One concern is that the Chinese government could use the platform to manipulate public opinion in the US, for instance, around political issues.
Chew described the TikTok algorithm as “just math” that recommends content based on user signals like watch time and engagement, and that the algorithm in the US is already different than the algorithm in China because the different user groups interact differently.
But as The Verge noted, his interview was as slick and as information free as anything from the Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey playbook.
Technology and societal trends are changing the internet. Concerns over data privacy, misinformation and content moderation are happening in tandem with excitement about Web3 and blockchain possibilities. Learn more about the tech and trends driving humanity’s digital future with these hand-curated articles from the NAB Amplify archives:
- The Social Media Trends That’ll Impact Your Business in 2023
- If Social Media Makes You Feel Some Type of Way, Then It’s Working
- Where We’re Headed Next With Social Media Marketing
- Social Media Is Making and Remaking Itself All the Time
- Is Recommendation Media the New Standard for Content Discovery?