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Former President Donald Trump’s battle with TikTok was one of the big tech stories of 2020, but the saga over the popular video-sharing app’s Chinese ownership didn’t end once Trump left office.
Trump may be gone from the White House (for now) along with his threats to ban TikTok from U.S. app stores, but the Culver City-based social media giant is still trying to untangle its U.S. operations from Beijing-based parent company ByteDance. It’s an attempt to assuage the U.S. government’s worries that the personal information of American users could fall into the hands of China’s government, which exerts much control over its country’s tech firms.
Last week brought more news that has only further fueled those concerns.
TikTok’s data on U.S. users has been repeatedly accessed in China by ByteDance workers, according to BuzzFeed News, which got its hands on audio recordings from company meetings. Engineers in China could glean data like American birthdays and phone numbers as recently as January, the report said. In other words, “everything is seen in China,” as one TikTok employee reportedly put it.
TikTok tried to get ahead of the bombshell report by announcing on the same day that it had migrated all of its U.S. user traffic to servers operated by American software giant Oracle. But the company is hardly out of the woods; cybersecurity experts told BuzzFeed that the physical location of servers doesn’t matter if the data can be accessed in China, while other news outlets have noted that ByteDance is still closely involved in TikTok’s decision-making. And accessing user data may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of U.S. security concerns: There are fears that TikTok’s recommendation algorithm could amplify propaganda and disinformation, including the political variety that has recently taken hold in places like Russia, the Philippines and Kenya (not to mention the U.S. itself).
All that considered, TikTok is likely in for more scrutiny from U.S. regulators. Yet it remains to be seen what that scrutiny ultimately leads to; Trump himself showed the limits of trying to strong-arm a tech giant, while federal lawmakers have thus far proven incapable of regulating tech companies. Plus, the people who ultimately matter most—TikTok’s 1 billion-plus monthly users—don’t seem too concerned about Chinese surveillance. The video-sharing platform, after all, continues to rank as the most downloaded app in the world. —Christian Hetrick
The streaming giant, which has seen its stock price plummet more than 70% this year, already cut 150 positions across its organization in May. According to reports, a new round of layoffs could be similar in size, and impacted employees could be notified by the end of this week.
YouTube Shorts has gained major traction in India, where its primary competitor, TikTok, is banned—and YouTube executives are hoping the service can parlay that momentum over to the States.
One of many ways to commemorate Juneteenth: Support the organizations that are creating a diverse startup ecosystem in L.A. and beyond — and get to know these Black-owned tech companies making a big impact.
What We’re Reading Elsewhere...
- Metrolink unveils technology that would automatically stop trains once a local earthquake hits.
- SpaceX launches and lands three rockets in less than two days.
- Two L.A. social media startups are looking to unseat Instagram.
- L.A.-based blockchain gaming company Mythical Games announces two new titles for 2023.
- The L.A. Times profiles AMC's CEO and "meme stock mascot" Adam Aron.