Senators Call On TikTok CEO To Come Clean On U.S. User Data

A Republican and a Democratic senator demanded CEO Shou Zi Chew tell the truth about whether sensitive U.S. user data has been stored on Chinese servers.

A Republican and a Democratic senator told TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew this week that they’re “disturbed by TikTok’s pattern of misleading or inaccurate responses” following a report contradicting Chew’s claim that the company isn’t storing U.S. user data in China.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called on Chew in a letter to “correct and explain” claims he made about data storage in testimony to Congress.

The letter, dated Tuesday, referenced a report published by Forbes last month that TikTok has used China-based storage for sensitive data, including Social Security numbers, of prominent U.S. TikTok creators paid by the company.

The senators also mentioned a New York Times article reporting that TikTok employees share U.S. user data, like driver’s licenses, on Lark, an internal messaging platform owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance. The breadth of American users’ data on Lark “alarmed some TikTok employees, especially since ByteDance workers in China and elsewhere could easily see the material,” the Times reported.

“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,” Blumenthal and Blackburn wrote.

“We are deeply troubled by TikTok’s recurring pattern of providing misleading, inaccurate, or false information to Congress and its users in the United States, including in response to us during oversight hearings and letters,” the senators added.

Alex Haurek, a TikTok spokesperson, said the company was “reviewing the letter.”

“We remain confident in the accuracy of our testimony and responses to Congress,” Haurek added.

During his testimony before a House committee in March, Chew spoke of “Project Texas,” an initiative by TikTok to route all U.S. user data to U.S.-based servers owned by software company Oracle. All new U.S. user data is being stored inside the country as of October, and TikTok has started deleting older user data from non-Oracle servers, he said.

“The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel,” Chew said.

Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy, in 2021 told a Senate panel that Americans’ data was stored in the U.S., while backup servers were based in Singapore.

The company has been under scrutiny in the U.S. over its ties to China. The Biden administration has previously warned TikTok’s owners it will ban the platform in the country unless it is sold.

Chinese companies and those operating within China are required by law to share data with the government if requested. Proponents of a U.S. ban have said that law could force TikTok to share U.S. user data with Beijing.

Last month, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed a bill imposing a statewide ban on TikTok that is set to take effect in 2024. The company has sued to block the legislation.

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