ByteDance Aiming to Separate TikTok From Chinese Operations

November 27, 2019 Updated: November 27, 2019

Beijing-based ByteDance Technology Co., the company that acquired video-sharing app TikTok, is ramping up efforts to separate its app from much of its Chinese operations amid a probe by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Unnamed sources told Reuters that ByteDance is trying to provide assurances to the committee that the personal data held by TikTok is stored securely in the United States and will not be compromised by the Chinese communist regime. The app is massively popular in the United States, especially among youth.

The committee is investigating ByteDance’s $1 billion acquisition of social media app in 2017, which laid the foundation for TikTok’s rapid growth. In the first quarter of this year, TikTok was the most downloaded application worldwide on the App Store, according to research firm Sensor Tower.

Experts told The Epoch Times earlier this month that the United States is right to sound the alarm over TikTok, citing concerns over the censoring of content, surveillance, and the access the Chinese regime has to companies and their data. ByteDance’s response represents a key test of corporate China’s ability to operate businesses in the United States that handle personal data amid a trade war between the United States and China.

“Current law makes it far too easy for hostile foreign governments like China to access Americans’ sensitive data,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said in a Nov. 18 statement. “Chinese companies with vast amounts of personal data on Americans are required by Chinese law to provide that data to Chinese intelligence services.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is undertaking a security assessment of TikTok after a lawmaker raised national security concerns.

ByteDance started to separate TikTok operationally before CFIUS approached it in October because it wanted some of its staff to focus on TikTok, the sources told Reuters.

It completed the separation of TikTok’s product and business development, marketing, and legal teams from those of its Chinese social media app, Douyin, in the third quarter of this year. During the summer, it also hired an external consultant to carry out audits on the integrity of the personal data it stores, the sources said.

The company has previously said U.S. user data is stored entirely in the United States, with a backup in Singapore. It has also said that the Chinese regime does not have any jurisdiction over TikTok content.

TikTok is also hiring more U.S. engineers to reduce its reliance on staff in China, according to the sources. It is not clear how effective these changes will be in appeasing CFIUS.

Meanwhile, a video on TikTok posted by an American teenager has gone viral after she accused the Chinese regime of placing Muslims into “concentration camps” during a makeup video. The teen, Feroza Aziz, wrote on Twitter that TikTok had blocked her from posting new content, before unblocking her again later.

TikTok denied they censored the content. However, the politically monitored Chinese version of the app, called Douyin, would have censored the post from Aziz, according to the BBC.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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