TikTok Faces Renewed Congressional Scrutiny Following Data Storage Reports: ‘We Are Disturbed By TikTok’s Pattern of Misleading or Inaccurate Responses’

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Photo Credit: Jonathan Kemper

Following troubling reports about the alleged storage of TikTok creators’ sensitive financial information in China, U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle are calling out the video-sharing app’s alleged “pattern of misleading or inaccurate responses.”

Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) scrutinized TikTok’s alleged misrepresentations – and made clear that the above reports allegedly contradict sworn congressional testimonies from execs – in a letter to CEO Shou Zi Chew. During an appearance before Congress in March, the Singapore native touted the perceived effectiveness of his app’s purported efforts to protect U.S. user data.

“The bottom line is this: American data, stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel,” relayed Shou Zi Chew. “We call this initiative Project Texas. That’s where Oracle is headquartered. Today, U.S. TikTok data is stored by default in Oracle’s servers.

“Only vetted personnel operating in a new company called TikTok U.S. Data Security can control access to this data. … Now there’s still some work to do,” continued the 40-year-old. “We have legacy U.S. data sitting in our servers in Virginia and in Singapore. We’re deleting those, and we expect that to be complete this year. … This eliminates the concern that some of you have shared with me, that TikTok user data can be subject to Chinese law.”

Of course, absent from these remarks is any mention of the possibility of financial details’ being stored in China – a point that the aforesaid lawmakers seized upon in their letter.

“These reports directly contradict statements you and other TikTok representatives have made to the public and under oath before Congress about where TikTok stores U.S. user data and the ability of employees in China to access that information,” the senators wrote.

“When you testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in March 2023,” the congressmembers continued, “you similarly said that TikTok user data ‘has always been stored in Virginia and Singapore in the past.’ … Nowhere in your response did you mention that TikTok stores user data in China, or that information about U.S. users — including sensitive information like photos and driver’s licenses or reports containing illegal materials like child sexual abuse materials — would be shared on Lark, and therefore accessible to ByteDance employees.”

Given the alleged “misleading and inaccurate representations to the American public” at hand, the senators have called on Shou Zi Chew to answer 14 multifaceted questions by next Friday. The queries concern the storage of and ByteDance’s access to Americans’ TikTok data in China, how long the data’s been housed on servers in the nation, and whether CFIUS has been informed of the practice, among several other subjects.

Longer term, it’ll be worth monitoring the possible legislative and regulatory byproducts of the latest round of TikTok scrutiny. In keeping with a long-running strategy – which it’s also employed amid rocky licensing talks with the Big Three, numerous bans at the government level, and millions in fines to this point in 2023 – TikTok is still plowing ahead with expansion initiatives.

About three weeks after announcing the “Artist Impact Program,” TikTok today unveiled a collaboration with Songtradr’s MassiveMusic “to develop a unique sonic identity that embodies the sound of our global community and creative democracy at its core.” Additionally, the ByteDance subsidiary has teed up “30 Days of #GamingonTikTok” in order “to celebrate the global gaming community.”