Popular video-sharing app TikTok is ramping up its lobbying and public relations efforts, vowing greater transparency with a new plan offering U.S. regulators more oversight of the Chinese-owned platform's handling of American users' data as it scrambles to avert being shut down in the U.S.
More details about the initiative, "Project Texas," are being revealed as calls grow for the app to be banned in the U.S. and talks with the government have apparently stalled.
TikTok is taking its transparency plan, “Project Texas,” directly to lawmakers and policymakers amid stalled talks with U.S. regulators. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo / Reuters Photos)
Since 2019, TikTok has been in negotiations with the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), which evaluates national security risks associated with foreign-owned companies operating in the U.S. or foreign investments in American companies.
As part of the back-and-forth to ensure TikTok would protect U.S. users' data and privacy, TikTok launched Project Texas in March of last year and began building the infrastructure in an effort to satisfy officials' concerns.
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But fears surrounding the company owned by Beijing-based ByteDance grew following a report last year that a TikTok team in China accessed data of U.S. TikTok users, including two journalists.
Since then, several states have banned the use of the social media app on state-owned devices, and Congress prohibited its use on federal government devices just weeks ago. Now, lawmakers like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., want to see it banned nationwide.
A source close to the matter told FOX Business TikTok is pleading its case to lawmakers since CFIUS has gone quiet, likely due to the political pressure surrounding the company.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, holds a smartphone while speaking during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. ( Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)
Under ramped-up pressure, TikTok presented its case to think tanks and lawmakers in multiple presentations earlier this month, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first unveiled basics of the plan last week.
It involves TikTok granting U.S. officials – namely CFIUS – oversight of its algorithms. The social media platform has already spent $1.5 billion on the reorganization of its U.S. operations so far and claims the revamp and added oversight will ensure U.S. user data would not be accessible to its Chinese parent company and, therefore, will be shielded from the Communist Chinese Party.
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Some of the details had already been released by TikTok previously. In December, the company announced the creation of a new trust and safety team within its U.S. Data Security operation.
TikTok also announced last summer it was rerouting all U.S. user traffic to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, saying it would still use its U.S. and Singapore data centers for backup.
"But as we continue our work, we expect to delete U.S. users' private data from our own data centers and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the U.S," TikTok said.
TikTok is ramping up its efforts to convince U.S. officials it can protect American users’ data as scrutiny grows over privacy concerns. (Getty Images/TikTok / Getty Images)
But the reorganization is complex, and a source close to the matter says many of the lawmakers speaking out against TikTok either want to be perceived as being "tough on China" or likely are not aware of the terms of Project Texas because it has been under wraps while the company was in quiet talks with CFIUS.
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"I think that what you'll find if you go to members' offices who are making a lot of noise about TikTok — and you say, 'What's your level of familiarity with the deal?' — you'll get some interesting answers," the source told FOX Business.
FOX Business' Eric Revell contributed to this report.