In the latest escalation of the US government’s pressure against the world’s most popular app, ByteDance has been asked to sell TikTok’s stake or risk getting the app banned in the US. Public security concerns surrounding TikTok have been around for a while now. The popular video-sharing app has already been banned by certain states, federal agencies, and universities.
TikTok has argued that disinvestment isn’t a solution as it won’t address the security concerns raised by the US. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew refused to answer whether the platform’s parent company ByteDance would be open to selling TikTok to an American company.
The growing pressure on TikTok
As confirmed by TikTok, President Biden’s government has threatened to ban the app in the US unless ByteDance splits its Chinese ownership. The timing might not be a coincidence, considering the growing tensions between the two global superpowers.
It’s no surprise that the US doesn’t want the Chinese government to have access to American data. Previously, the Trump administration issued executive orders to ban the downloads of TikTok in the US. President Biden later withdrew them but ordered a CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment) review of TikTok instead.
Not too long ago, FBI director Chris Wray raised concerns regarding the app’s collection of user data and its ties to the Chinese authoritarian government.
The Texas Project – TikTok’s solution to American concerns
ByteDance-owned TikTok has presented an unusual self-regulation solution to address the US government’s concerns – Project Texas. The program is centered around the monitoring of TikTok’s systems by Oracle, an American-owned company.
In June 2022, leaked audio from as many as 80 internal meetings revealed that TikTok staff in China could still access nonpublic US user data. It was then that TikTok decided to move all its US traffic to Oracle servers.
Additionally, Oracle is also auditing the app’s algorithms and content moderation models.
Responding to the US government’s demand for disinvestment, Chew claimed Project Texas should already address the security concerns by putting US data out of China’s reach. He further added that “a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access”, stressing why disinvestment is unnecessary.
US concerns over Project Texas
According to TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan, implementing transparent and US-based protection for American user data is the best way to address the security concerns raised by the US government.
In the face of rising pressure from the US government, TikTok has been lobbying with the help of Oracle to strengthen its position on the matter.
So, why doesn’t the Biden administration find Project Texas to be sufficient in projecting US data from the Chinese government? As explained by Hannah Kelley, Oracle has a bad name earned through repeated incidents of data leaks and the misuse and mishandling of data.
It’s unclear whether ByteDance will eventually give in to the US government and agree to disinvest TikTok. However, judging by the company’s statements and recent lobbying to build Capitol Hill support for its partnership with Oracle, it won’t relent easily.