TikTok Says, ‘We Don’t Remove Content’ ⁠— Then Bans User Criticizing China

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Photo Credit: TikTok

TikTok executives are on a mission to refute evidence that the Chinese-owned social media app censors content.

A 17-year-old in New Jersey was recently banned from TikTok for criticizing China’s treatment of Uighur ethnic minorities. Representatives told CNBC the user was banned, but it was not a matter of censorship since the video was still posted on the platform. The user’s access to her account was later restored, but only after the video went viral.

The United States government is currently investigating TikTok after claims to censorship. Mark Zuckerberg recently railed against the app, and Senator Marco Rubio wrote a letter calling for the investigations.

Now it looks like ByteDance is trying to do more to separate TikTok from its Chinese operations. ByteDance is seeking to provide assurances to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States that personal data is stored securely. Specifically, the U.S. government wants to make sure the Chinese government won’t exploit U.S. citizen’s data.

The Committee has been looking into ByteDance’s $1 billion acquisition of Musical.ly in 2017. That acquisition helped jump-start TikTok into its 1.5 billion downloads and counting.

ByteDance is hoping to avoid the fate of Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd and its acquisition of Grindr. That company agreed to divest from the gay dating app over personal data security concerns.

Sources say ByteDance has been looking to separate TikTok well before the U.S. investigations. The app’s business development, marketing, and legal teams are separate from its Chinese counterpart, Douyin.

This summer, ByteDance hired an external consultant to carry out audits of its personal data stores. ByteDance maintains that data from U.S. users is stored in the United States, with backups held in Singapore. The company continues to maintain that the Chinese government has no jurisdiction over TikTok content.

TikTok is setting up a team in Mountain View, California, to help oversee data management. This team will determine whether Chinese engineers should have access to data management and will monitor their activity. TikTok is also hiring more U.S. engineers to reduce its reliance on Chinese developers.