Bytedance moves to separate TikTok from its Chinese operations

2 min read
The exterior of Bytedance’s office in Shanghai. (Image credit: TechNode/Shi Jiayi)

Bytedance has stepped up efforts to separate short video platform TikTok from its Chinese operations as a US national security panel scrutinizes data safety on the app, Reuters reported.

Why it matters: Several US lawmakers, such as US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator John Hawley, have been raising questions about TikTok’s content filtering practices as well as the potential national security risks it poses as a Chinese company.

  • TikTok said it stores all US user data in the US with backups in Singapore.
  • The company also stated that it hasn’t and wouldn’t remove content at the request of the Chinese government.

Details: Bytedance is seeking to reassure the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which launched the probe to investigate TikTok’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly earlier this month, that personal data on TikTok won’t be compromised by Chinese authorities.

  • Bytedance started separating TikTok operationally before the probe to enable some of its staff to better focus on TikTok, according to the report citing people familiar with the matter.
  • The Beijing-based company also finished separating TikTok’s product and business development, marketing, and legal teams from those of Douyin in the third quarter.
  • Since CFIUS launched the probe, TikTok has been pushing to set up a team in Mountain View, California, to oversee data management. The team will have control over whether Chinese-based engineers have access to TikTok’s database , and will be able to monitor their activity.
  • TikTok is also hiring US engineers to become less dependent on Bytedance employees in China.
  • The CFIUS probe is currently focused on TikTok’s handling of personal data, not censorship.

Context: TikTok has repeatedly denied claims that it censors content deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government, yet former employees of the company have said otherwise.

  • Former employees of the company said they had to follow content moderation rules set by managers in Beijing, who routinely ignored their requests not to block or penalize sensitive content.
  • TikTok US general manager Vanessa Pappas, however, told the Washington Post that the company is no longer using a universal set of standards for content moderation, adding that her California-based team is managing the US market.