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TikTok acknowledges some US creator data may be stored in China

by Janiya Croxie
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Originally Published: 22 JUN 23 11:54 ET

By Brian Fung, CNN

(CNN) — TikTok has acknowledged to US lawmakers that some personal information belonging to creators on the platform may be stored in China, outside of the protections that the company applies to other types of US user data.

The disclosure was made in a June 16 document addressed to Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Sen. Richard Blumenthal and released by the senators Thursday. The senators have previously accused TikTok of misleading Congress about its handling of Americans’ personal information.

Amid mounting scrutiny in Washington in recent months on TikTok’s ties to China through its parent company, TikTok has said it is implementing a program known as Project Texas that would store data from American users on cloud servers managed by the US tech giant Oracle. TikTok CEO Shou Chew has said Project Texas also includes strict protocols that limit access to the data to US employees.

But those protections do not apply to certain financial records that TikTok holds, the company said in the document, including “signed contracts and related documents for U.S. creators who enter into a commercial relationship with TikTok.”

The exception for creator business records is one of several that TikTok has negotiated with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the company said, referring to the multi-agency US government panel that has been reviewing TikTok for several years. Other exceptions include “public data, business metrics, [and] interoperability data,” TikTok told the senators, describing how some of the data it collects is meant to assist with its legal compliance obligations.

The creator data is distinct from what TikTok refers to as “protected data” involving app-based information — including users’ behavioral data — that the US government deems more sensitive, TikTok told US lawmakers. TikTok said Chew was referring to the “protected information” when discussing Project Texas in his congressional testimony earlier this year.

In the document, TikTok does not explicitly say that creator data is stored in China. But TikTok’s disclosure drawing the distinction between protected user data and creator data comes after Blackburn and Blumenthal challenged the truthfulness of TikTok’s testimony in light of a Forbes report finding that TikTok was storing some US financial data in China.

TikTok’s responses to the senators maintain that the company was telling the truth in its testimony. “TikTok has been clear that there are certain, limited exceptions to the definition of protected data,” the company wrote.

Still, Blackburn said Thursday that the document shows that TikTok was being misleading.

“TikTok’s response makes it crystal clear that Americans’ data is still exposed to Beijing’s draconian and pervasive spying regimes – despite the claims of TikTok’s misleading public relations campaign,” Blackburn said in a statement.

TikTok declined to comment beyond the document.

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