AUSTIN (KXAN) — In response to growing concerns from government officials in the U.S., TikTok started what they internally call Project Texas, an effort to build trust with key government stakeholders.
Already around the country, government leaders have begun implementing bans on the popular application. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued a ban on the use of TikTok on any government-issued devices in early January. A couple of weeks later, UT-Austin announced that TikTok would be blocked on any device connected to the university’s networks.
It’s not just in Texas; 25 states have banned the app on state-owned devices. Federally, Biden signed a bill into law temporarily prohibiting the use of TikTok on devices owned by U.S. government agencies, according to reporting from NBC.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance – a Chinese technology company with headquarters in Beijing. Some government officials and critics of the app have posited that TikTok could share critical data, such as location and browsing history, with its parent company and then with the Chinese Government, according to Associated Press reporting. Fears of this happening were further inflamed when ByteDance employees improperly accessed TikTok user data, including from two journalists, in an effort to determine who might be leaking information to the press, according to Reuters. Four employees involved in the incident, including two from China and two from the U.S., were fired, according to Reuters reporting.
Project Texas’s aim is to safeguard user data and protect U.S. national security interests, according to TikTok. Before recently, TikTok tried to conceal aspects of the project. Because of leaks detailing portions of Project Texas’ goals, they decided to speak publicly.
Last week, TikTok executives gave a presentation on Project Texas to academics, think tank scholars and journalists, according to Lawfare, a blog dedicated to reporting on national security issues. Lawfare said that the key component of Project Texas was establishing the TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc., a subsidiary of the company.
The new subsidiary deals with the aspects of TikTok’s business that are most likely to elicit national security concerns. It will be governed by an independent board of directors, which TikTok will nominate, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will review. Further, the subsidiary’s board of directors will report to CFIUS and not to ByteDance, according to LawFare.
Does Project Texas have anything to do with Texas?
In the presentation given last week, TikTok officials said Oracle, an Austin-based software company, will oversee all data entering the entity and exiting the entity. This may quell concerns that data being handled by the company could pose national security concerns, according to Lawfare. As of at least June 2022, TikTok said all U.S. user data was being stored in the Oracle cloud environment.
A spokesperson from TikTok confirmed to KXAN that the project’s name is a nod to Oracle’s headquarters.