TikTok assures Republicans it’s working to protect US data security

After years of mounting pressure, TikTok provided US lawmakers with more details into how it limits Chinese access to American data in a new letter dated Thursday.

In a letter addressed to nine of the app’s most prominent Republican critics, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew detailed how the company planned to separate American user data from ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company. Chew also explained TikTok’s plan to house American user data on Oracle servers, a plan first reported by BuzzFeed News last month.

“We’re proud to be able to serve a global community of more than a billion people who use TikTok to creatively express themselves and be entertained,” Chew wrote in the letter first reported by The New York Times. “We know we are among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of U.S. user data.”

The Verge independently confirmed the letter’s authenticity on Friday.

Soon after BuzzFeed News reported that ByteDance engineers in China had access to US data as late as January 2022, Republican senators questioned Chew about the company’s data security practices in a June letter. The letter — signed by lawmakers like Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) — raised concerns that TikTok officials “did not provide truth or forthright answers” in a recent committee hearing in light of the report.

Responding to Chew’s Thursday letter, Blackburn put out a statement calling on TikTok to testify before Congress again.

“TikTok’s response confirms that our fears regarding CCP influence within the company are well-founded,” Blackburn said. “They should have come clean from the start but instead tried to shroud their work in secrecy. Americans need to know that if they are on TikTok, Communist China has their information. TikTok needs to come back and testify before Congress.”

Since 2020, Republicans have raised concerns over TikTok’s popularity with American users, accusing the app of sharing US data directly with the Chinese government. In late August 2020, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively banning TikTok in the US. Federal judges repeatedly struck down the order, but Republicans continued to mount pressure against the app.

As late as last month, Brendan Carr, a Republican commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, wrote to Apple and Google requesting that the companies remove TikTok from their app stores. The FCC does not have the authority to ban apps, but Carr asked for statements from the tech giants if they chose not to remove the app.

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