Insiders: TikTok Initiative to Isolate U.S. User Data from Chinese Government ‘Largely Cosmetic’

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Former TikTok employees say the Chinese app’s effort to isolate U.S. user data from China — a hostile foreign country run by a communist regime — is ineffective, calling the initiative “largely cosmetic.”

In 2022, TikTok launched an initiative known as Project Texas, claiming it would be moving U.S. user data away from the app’s Chinese parent company ByteDance, which is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok Ban

TikTok Ban (Anadolu /Getty)

“Project Texas is an unprecedented initiative dedicated to making every American on TikTok feel safe, with confidence that their data is secure and the platform is free from outside influence,” TikTok said of the initiative.

This endeavor, however, is “largely cosmetic,” and TikTok staff continued to work closely with Beijing-based ByteDance executives after Project Texas was implemented, several former employees of the app told Fortune:

With the House voting in March to force ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok, 11 former employees interviewed by Fortune tell a vastly different story. Many of those ex-workers, four of whom were employed as recently as last year, say at least some of TikTok’s operations were intertwined with its parent during their tenures, and that the company’s independence from China was largely cosmetic.

In one example, Katie Puris, former head of global business marketing at TikTok, claimed in a lawsuit that the Chinese app has never been independent from ByteDance.

“Despite its attempts to appear independent, TikTok’s day-to-day management and business decisions came directly from ByteDance’s top-level management in China,” the lawsuit states.

Puris sued TikTok in February for discrimination, alleging that she was fired because her Beijing-based bosses didn’t consider her demure enough.

In her complaint, the ex-TikTok employee claimed that ByteDance executives began asserting more control over the app’s daily operations in 2020, counter to what the social media platform was telling the public.

TikTok also had bimonthly meetings led by ByteDance chairman Lidong Zhang, where executives discussed their achievements and drafted plans for the following two months with top ByteDance officers, Puris said.

Moreover, Evan Turner, who worked as a senior data scientist at TikTok from April to September 2022, added that the app continued working closely with ByteDance, despite claiming otherwise.

Turner cited an incident in which he says he was reassigned to a Seattle-based executive, noting that he never actually met this executive and was instead told to continue working with a ByteDance executive in China while it said he was reporting to an American executive on paper.

These moves were apparently made was in effort to appease U.S. lawmakers, who have been expressing concerns over the risks TikTok poses to American users and the United States in general.

As Breitbart News reported, the U.S. Senate is reviewing legislation that could ban TikTok if ByteDance doesn’t sell it within six months. The Chinese app has since purchased $2.1 million in television advertising in the battleground states in an apparent attempt to meddle in U.S. elections.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and X/Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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