BuzzFeed News reports that leaked audio from over 80 internal TikTok meetings reveals that China-based employees of the popular video sharing app have accessed U.S. user data on a repeated basis. The recordings are dated between September 2021 and January 2022 and include 14 statements from nine TikTok employees meeting to discuss “Project Texas,” a classified effort by U.S. employees to stop engineers in China from retrieving U.S. data.
One of the audio clips includes a TikTok director referring to a engineer of TikTok’s parent company ByteDance as a “Master Admin,” who has “access to everything.” TikTok made an announcement after the report was published, attempting to head off the bad news by stating that “100% of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure,” instead of being hosted at data centers in the U.S. and Singapore.
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In a comment to the Daily Mail, a TikTok spokesperson said:
As we’ve publicly stated, we’ve brought in world class internal and external security experts to help us strengthen our data security efforts.
This is standard industry practice given the complexity of data security challenges. In May, we created a new in-house department, U.S. Data Security (USDS), with US-based leadership, to provide a greater level of focus and governance on US data security.
The creation of this organization is part of our ongoing effort and commitment to strengthen our data protection policies and protocols, further protect our users, and build confidence in our systems and controls.
In August of 2020, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning TikTok and the Chinese app WeChat in the U.S. The reasoning behind the ban was the former President’s belief that TikTok’s “data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”
That executive order was revoked by President Joe Biden last year, unbanning the app. Biden also called for “an evidence-based analysis to address the risks’ from internet applications controlled by foreign entities.”
Read more at BuzzFeed News here.