ByteDance's head of security says it's impossible for China to get hold of TikTok user data because it's stored in the US

  • Roland Cloutier, head of security at TikTok's parent company ByteDance, told Cyberscoop the Chinese government can't demand TikTok user data because it's all stored in the US.
  • Trump signed an executive order on August 6 ordering TikTok to sell off its US business or shut down its operations in the country. The app poses a national security threat, he said.
  • Cloutier said any request for TikTok user data has to go through the US government, and that China has no jurisdiction over the app.
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The head of security at TikTok's Beijing-based parent company ByteDance has said it's impossible for the Chinese government to get their hands on user data from the app — contrary to the Trump administration's assertions.

In an interview with Cyberscoop, conducted August 20 but published Thursday, ByteDance global chief security officer Roland Cloutier said any request from China for TikTok user data would go through the US government because TikTok's servers are based in the US.

TikTok's app doesn't exist in China, so the Chinese government has no jurisdiction over it, he added.

"We have very specific processes when law enforcement or government agencies were to ask us for things, and because we sit in the United States, it would have to go through the US government," said Cloutier. TikTok has repeatedly said it stores all its data on servers in the US, with backups in Singapore.

"We simply don't share data with governments, including the Chinese government," Cloutier said.

TikTok's Chinese ownership is what the Trump administration claims makes the video-sharing app a national security threat. The Chinese government could compel TikTok to hand over user data, and so could be used to spy on US citizens, the administration argues.

Like any social media company, TikTok can receive requests from governments for information, for example as part of a police investigation. However, Cloutier said the company has never received a request from the Chinese government because TikTok's app doesn't exist in China. In the Chinese market, ByteDance operates an almost identical app called Douyin, and in a statement to Cyberscoop the company said TikTok and Douyin operate separately, and on different servers.

"Neither TikTok data, nor use, occurs in China, so therefore [the Chinese government] does not have jurisdiction over the platform," said Cloutier.

When pressed about the fact that ByteDance is based in China and could be subject to Chinese requests for data, Cloutier did not budge. "The information is the information. It's within the jurisdiction or under the legal guidelines of the country of origin. It doesn't change anything," he said. 

President Trump has signed two executive orders effectively threatening to ban the app unless it sells its US business to an American company. Companies bidding on TikTok include Microsoft, in conjunction with Walmart, and Oracle. TikTok has launched a lawsuit against the order saying it was denied due process.

China has accused the US of targeting TikTok for geopolitical reasons, calling the forced sale state-sanctioned robbery — pointing to Trump's suggestion that the US Treasury would get a "substantial cut" of any deal.

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