TikTok's China-based owner takes steps to distance itself from Chinese operations during US probe: report

TikTok's China-based owner takes steps to distance itself from Chinese operations during US probe: report
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The China-based tech company that owns TikTok has taken steps to separate the social media app from its Chinese operations amid a U.S. probe into how the firm handles personal data, Reuters reported Wednesday.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) approached the company ByteDance to investigate its data management in October, but people familiar with the matter told Reuters that the firm made efforts to separate TikTok from Chinese operations before that to ensure designated staffers were focused on the app.

TikTok’s product and business development, marketing, and legal teams broke from the Chinese social media app Douyin in the third quarter this year, sources told Reuters. 

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The company also hired a consultant over the summer to audit the security of personal data storage, Reuters reported. Data from U.S. users is stored domestically with a backup in Singapore, and ByteDance has said Chinese officials do not have access to it.

TikTok is moving to hire more U.S. workers and develop a team to monitor data management in California and see if Chinese-based engineers should have access to the data, according to the newswire.

The personal data would include a user’s submitted name, age, email address and phone number in addition to automatic shared location data.

TikTok did not immediately return a request for comment.

The CFIUS is tasked with inquiring about foreign buyers of companies that could pose a security risk. It is investigating ByteDance’s purchase of the app Musical.ly, which was the base for TikTok, in 2017 to ensure Chinese authorities will not have access to the data.

The committee previously requested a Chinese company divest from the dating app Grindr following data management concerns.

The moves come amid tensions between Washington and Beijing as the year-plus trade war persists between the world's two largest economies. During that time, the U.S. government has blacklisted several Chinese companies, citing security concerns and their alleged mistreatment of Muslim minorities in China.