ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok is “on track” with its undertaking to have all U.S. user data hosted and overseen by Oracle Corp., as the Chinese tech behemoth struggles to win over critics worried about the national security implications of its hit video app.
TikTok Chief Executive Officer Shou Zi Chew said the American software company has begun a review of TikTok’s source code and is now the default destination for U.S. user data. His team is also developing a European version of this local-hosting initiative, designed to allay fears of sensitive information reaching the Chinese government, with data centers in Ireland and Norway.
“The Chinese government has actually never asked us for U.S. user data, and we will not provide it even if asked,” the executive, who goes by Shou Chew in the U.S., told Bloomberg Television at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha on Tuesday. “We will continue to invest to make sure that our data is as safe as possible.”
TikTok has come under fire as American lawmakers rekindled concerns over how the Chinese-owned platform handles user data. ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup, now faces an intensive national security review and legislation that could ban its signature service in its biggest international market. To address those concerns, TikTok is developing its U.S. and E.U. projects to have user information stored locally, by a local company, and overseen by local staff.
In March, Chew sat through a grueling five-hour hearing at Capitol Hill where lawmakers repeatedly questioned him about TikTok’s Chinese ownership and Beijing’s ability to access the data of millions of Americans. TikTok executives had internally discussed splitting from ByteDance, but Chinese officials said they would oppose a forced sale.
On Tuesday, the TikTok chief reiterated that his team is working with Oracle and the U.S. government and making progress.
TikTok’s 150 million American users appear to be its biggest ally. Last week, Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, signed a measure that will prohibit the app’s download beginning next year. Local TikTok creators and viewers protested against the first statewide ban of the app in the U.S., including by suing their government on First Amendment grounds.
“We believe that the Montana bill that was recently passed is simply unconstitutional,” Chew said. TikTok filed a lawsuit to challenge it in the court, and he’s confident the company will prevail.
Despite the political tension, TikTok hasn’t eased its push on monetization. Having already snatched a big portion of advertising from the likes of Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, TikTok is now venturing into live-streaming commerce in places like Southeast Asia and the U.S., following the tried-and-true model of its Chinese sibling Douyin.
ByteDance’s revenue surged more than 30% to surpass $80 billion for 2022, matching the tally at rival Tencent Holdings Ltd. The double-digit growth also topped that of most of the global internet leaders, including Meta and Amazon.com Inc.
Back home, ByteDance joined the likes of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent to implement unprecedented cost curbs during a year of endless regulatory crackdowns and Covid restrictions. The Beijing company founded about a decade ago curtailed some of its riskier projects — including in gaming and venture investment. Douyin remains its cash cow as the video forum evolved to become an all-in-one app with built-in purchases, online meal delivery and grocery features.
The TikTok owner was valued at around $220 billion in a recent private-market investment by Abu Dhabi AI firm G42, down from the $300 billion that ByteDance set during a September share buyback program.
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