ByteDance Offered U.S. Government Major TikTok Oversight—Including a “Kill Switch”

White House was offered a TikTok kill switch by ByteDance in 2022
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White House was offered a TikTok kill switch by ByteDance in 2022
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Photo Credit: Suzy Brooks

A new report suggests ByteDance offered the U.S. government oversight over TikTok’s American operations—including a ‘kill switch’ if necessary. The Biden administration turned down this offer in 2022.

The Washington Post reports Chinese company ByteDance made this offer in 2022, amid fierce debate over legislation to ban TikTok in the United States. A senior official told the Post that the administration turned down the offer because they believed it was “insufficient to address the serious national security risks” posed by TikTok.

“While we have consistently engaged with the company about our concerns and potential solutions, it became clear that divestment from its foreign ownership was and remains necessary,” that spokesperson continues.

In April 2024, President Biden signed legislation that forces TikTok’s sale or the social media app will be banned in January 2025. ByteDance has sued the United States government to block the law from being enforced, citing the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans who use the platform. A Justice Department spokesperson says the law has been crafted to “address critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other Constitutional limitations.”

The offer in 2022 was made as part of TikTok’s Project Texas effort, a public-facing effort by TikTok to distance itself from its parent company. “Project Texas is an unprecedented initiative dedicated to making every U.S. user on TikTok feel safe, providing them with confidence that their data is secure and the platform is free from outside influence,” the announcement read. But a report from April 2024 found that TikTok’s efforts to keep U.S. data in a silo were “largely cosmetic.”

Several former employees came forward in an interview with Fortune, saying they continued to work closely with Beijing-based ByteDance executives well after Project Texas was implemented. One data scientist reported being reassigned on paper only. His paper manager was a person in Seattle, but he continued reporting daily operations to executives in China.

Every two weeks, this worker would email spreadsheets with data on U.S. users to ByteDance workers in China. Data on those spreadsheets included users’ names, email addresses, IP addresses, geographic and demographic information.