Reuters is reporting that ByteDance, which is the parent of TikTok, is stepping up attempts to separate the app from its Chinese operations in the wake of a U.S. government investigation of its data handling policies.
According to the report, which comes from sources inside the company, ByteDance is looking to assure the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) that all user data from TikTok is securely stored in the United States. Some believe that if the company’s data is stored in China, or can be accessed from it, the Chinese government could potentially compromise it.
The investigation by CFIUS was triggered after ByteDance bought Musical.ly, which eventually became part of TikTok, in 2017 for $1 billion.
ByteDance has good reasons for moving TikTok’s data away from China. Previously, CFIUS forced a Chinese company called Beijing Kunlun Tech to divest from Grindr, which is a popular gay dating app, for the same reason CFIUS is investigating ByteDance.
This is just the latest of moves by ByteDance to separate TikTok from itself.
Even before the CFIUS investigation, ByteDance had been separating many of TikTok’s teams, including legal, marketing and product and business development, from a China-based social media app it also owns, which is called Douyin.
The company also conducted an external audit of its operations, which it said demonstrated that all TikTok user data was stored in the United States, with backups kept in Singapore. It further insisted that the Chinese government has no control whatsoever over TikTok content.
In spite of this insistence, there are new reports that the app has just blocked the account of an U.S. user after she posted a video that criticized China’s policies toward its Uighur minority.
To continue to facilitate the app’s separation from China, the company is additionally expanding its operations in the United States, by hiring U.S. engineers and setting up a team in California that will have responsibility over data management.