TikTok’s database is being accessed by employees in China, raising new doubts about the social media platform’s assurances last year that US users’ personal information would be kept out of China.
That report was made by BuzzFeed on Friday, citing audio recordings of employees. According to the report, the recordings include 14 testimonies from nine different TikTok employees, showing that engineers in China had access to US data between at least September 2021 and January 2022. Of the nine testimonies from eight different employees, the recordings described situations in which US employees had to contact their counterparts in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US employees had neither permission nor knowledge of how to access the data themselves.
“Everything is seen in China,” a member of TikTok’s trust and security department said at a September 2021 meeting cited by BuzzFeed. At another meeting in September, a director referred to a Beijing-based engineer as the “master admin” who ” has access to everything”.
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This goes against every defense TikTok has made regarding concerns by the US government that the Chinese Communist Party could use the app as a backdoor into Americans’ private data.
In a Senate hearing in October 2021, TikTok said that a “world-renowned US-based security team” decides who gets access to this data. The testimony helped calm former President Donald Trump’s attack on TikTok after the 2019 Foreign Investment Committee investigated the national security implications of TikTok’s collection of American data. In 2020, Trump moved to ban the app supreme command.
The tapes mean the exam is likely to be revived. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said so BuzzFeed Report is intended to serve as a wake-up call.
“For TikTok to knowingly allow the Chinese Communist Party access to American user data is unacceptable and a complete breach of trust,” McMorris Rodgers said Washington Examiner in an opinion. “TikTok has repeatedly claimed that they do not share US user data with the Chinese government, CCP, or other Chinese state entities. We now know that this is not the case and must not happen without consequences. … This should be a wake-up call for anyone who believes Americans deserve privacy and data security online. Big Tech needs to be exposed for sending Americans’ data to China.”
TikTok, in response to BuzzFeed’s findings, said the company is working to eliminate any security concerns about its operations.
“We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we want to eliminate any doubt about the security of US user data,” TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan told the outlet. “That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and engage reputable, independent third parties to test our defenses.”
in one blog entry On Friday, the high-flying social media app claimed that it “has long stored US user data in our own data centers in the US and Singapore” and takes its responsibility to “protect users’ data from unauthorized access” seriously.
However, experts have pointed out that storing data in the US and Singapore, while mitigating some risks, does not take into account the fact that China-based employees can access the data.
TikTok added in its blog post that as part of its relationship with Oracle, it has been working on several measures to better protect the app, systems, and security of US user data.
“We have now reached a significant milestone in this work: we have changed the default location for US user data. Today, 100% of US user traffic is routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. We are still using our US and Singapore data centers for backups, but as we continue our work, we expect to wipe US users’ private data from our own data centers and fully migrate to US-based Oracle Cloud Servers will pivot,” it said, adding It is working closely with Oracle to develop data management protocols, which Oracle will audit and maintain to give users even more security.
This is part of Project Texas, a deal TikTok is currently negotiating with cloud service providers Oracle and CFIUS. Under the CFIUS agreement, TikTok would store US users’ protected private information, such as phone numbers and birthdays, exclusively in a data center managed by Oracle in Texas. According to the report, this data would only be accessible to certain US-based TikTok employees.
Project Texas will largely protect US data after its completion. However, according to the audio recordings, employees fear that this will not solve the problem, as there are many technical challenges to overcome. It’s not clear if these new findings will prompt the US government to launch a new probe into TikTok’s activities. President Joe Biden had last year canceled most of Trump’s executive orders against Chinese apps.