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Leaked TikTok meetings show China accesses US user data

But TikTok is trying to limit that access in the US.

tiktok app logo on phone screen
Image: Unsplash

TikTok has been under constant scrutiny due to concerns that ByteDance, the China-based parent company of the app, might be harvesting US user data.

And according to a new report, several internal recordings have revealed that the company’s employees based in China have consistently had access to US user data.

Buzzfeed News recently obtained audio from tons of internal TikTok meetings. And in those meetings, there were 14 statements claiming that Chinese employees have had access to US TikTok user data.

“We know we’re among the most scrutinized 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 defenses,” says TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan in response to these recordings.

READ MORE: FCC commissioner urges Apple and Google to ban TikTok

China essentially sees everything, said one member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department. In the past, the platform has seen tons of scrutiny over its potential data harvesting practices.

Additionally, Former President Donald Trump even attempted to ban the platform a couple of years ago.

TikTok is trying to address this problem

tiktok logo with blurred smartphone in the background
Image: KnowTechie

READ MORE: TikTok finally adds ‘content levels’ to limit what kids see on the app

The majority of recordings regarding China’s access to US user data revolves around TikTok’s efforts to limit Chinese access. In fact, the platform is currently working to protect US user data in an effort called Project Texas.

Project Texas is an effort from TikTok to migrate US “protected” user data to a data center managed by Oracle. Of course, it’s unclear exactly what TikTok considers to be “protected” data. But this is a key effort from TikTok to limit China’s influence on its business in the United States.

So it seems like TikTok is at least trying to protect its US users’ data from Chinese employees.

READ MORE: New TikTok hack reportedly exposes source code and user data

In fact, the majority of recordings gathered confirming Chinese access to US user data were from discussions about how to stop China’s data access. But at the end of the day, it seems like ByteDance still holds all the power.

“It remains to be seen if at some point product and engineering can still figure out how to get access because, at the end of the day, it’s their tools,” said one employee in a September 2021 meeting. “They built them all in China.”

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Staff writer at KnowTechie. Alex has two years of experience covering all things technology, from video games to electric cars. He's a gamer at heart, with a passion for first-person shooters and expansive RPGs. Shoot him an email at alex@knowtechie.com

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