TikTok moves US user data to Oracle servers amid concerns over China
- The move comes as US media reports that such data was repeatedly accessed by China-based ByteDance staff, according to leaked audio from internal meetings
- The popular video-sharing platform had previously stored its US user data at its own facilities in Virginia, with a backup in Singapore
TikTok said it has completed migrating information on its US users to servers at Oracle Corp, in a move that could address US regulatory concerns over data integrity on the popular short video app.
The move comes nearly two years after a US national security panel ordered parent company ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that US user data could be passed on to China’s communist government.
BuzzFeed News reported on Friday said that such data had been repeatedly accessed by China-based ByteDance employees, according to leaked audio from over 80 internal TikTok meetings obtained by the outlet.
In a brief statement to BuzzFeed, a TikTok spokesperson said: “We know we’re among the most scrutinised platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data.
“That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defences.”
TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media apps, with more than 1 billion active users globally, and counts the US as its largest market.
The United States has been increasingly scrutinising app developers over the personal data they handle, especially if some of it involves US military or intelligence personnel.
The order to sell off TikTok was not enforced after Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump as US president last year.
The panel, known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), however, has continued to harbour concerns over data security at TikTok that ByteDance is now hoping to address, Reuters previously reported.
The White House had no immediate comment while the US Treasury declined to comment.
In March, Reuters reported that TikTok was nearing a deal for Oracle Corp to store its US users’ information.
Oracle had discussed acquiring a minority stake in TikTok in 2020, when ByteDance was under US pressure to sell the app.
The cloud computing giant now stores all of TikTok’s US user data on Oracle data servers in the United States under the new partnership, TikTok said. Oracle declined to comment.
TikTok had previously been storing its US user data at its own data centres in Virginia, with a backup in Singapore. It will now delete private data on US users from its own data centres and rely fully on Oracle’s US servers, it said.
The Virginia and Singapore centres are still being used to back up the data, the company said.
TikTok has also set up a dedicated US data security team known as “USDS” as a gatekeeper for US user information and ring-fencing it from ByteDance, a company spokesperson said.
Led by Andrew Bonillo, who was an executive at TikTok’s global security department, the USDS currently reports to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, the spokesperson said.
The company is discussing a structure under which the team would operate autonomously and not be under TikTok’s control or supervision, a source told Reuters.
Another senior executive at USDS is Will Farrell, who was previously working under TikTok’s Chief Security Officer Roland Cloutier. The USDS team includes content moderation personnel, engineers, and members from user and product operations.
ByteDance is one of China’s fastest growing start-ups. It owns the country’s leading news aggregator, Jinri Toutiao, as well as TikTok’s Chinese counterpart Douyin.
In June 2021, Biden withdrew Trump-era executive orders that sought to ban new downloads of WeChat and TikTok.
The Commerce Department is writing new rules on app data security that could potentially lead to restrictions on how apps based abroad use US user data or even ban apps deemed serious security risks.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said last year the administration is “very serious about protecting Americans’ data”, but criticised Trump’s approach.
“Doing some executive order that’s meaningless on TikTok is not the way to do it,” she said.