Mar 18, 2024 - News

TikTok ban could affect Texas data security initiative

Animated illustration of the TikTok logo glitching and turning into a no symbol.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

TikTok says a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. House last week could make the app less secure for Americans because a sale could spell the end of TikTok's $1.5 billion, Texas-based data security initiative.

Why it matters: The bill raises national security concerns over TikTok's Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance, alleging the Chinese Communist Party could influence app operations or control software on American mobile devices.

  • If signed into law, the measure would require TikTok to split from ByteDance within 180 days or be banned in U.S. app stores.

Flashback: To address security concerns, TikTok began routing all U.S. user data through Austin-based tech company Oracle in 2022. The initiative is dubbed Project Texas.

  • The Oracle cloud prevents U.S. user data from being accessed by either TikTok or ByteDance employees, TikTok public policy vice president Michael Beckerman wrote in a letter to Congress.

Yes, but: If ByteDance is forced to sell, another parent company is unlikely to "continue this expensive, groundbreaking work," Beckerman said.

  • "Ironically, U.S. user data could be less secure under a divestment scheme," he added.

The intrigue: Brian Firebaugh, a Netflix-famous rancher from Hubbard, posted on TikTok that he wonders if politicians are concerned about user data ending up in China's hands or if they're "fearful" about the rapid dissemination of information through the platform.

  • Firebaugh pointed to the attention that the recent Texas Panhandle wildfires got through TikTok, saying videos about the fires helped bring millions of dollars of aid to the area.
  • "U.S. lawmakers in Washington, D.C., want to ban TikTok. Well, they can get bent," he said.

Catch up quick: The federal legislation has been moving fast. It was introduced two weeks ago and the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced it days later.

  • Just three Democratic House representatives from Texas voted against the bill — Austin's Greg Casar, Houston's Sheila Jackson Lee and San Antonio's Joaquin Castro.
  • Dallas' Jasmine Crockett, also a Democrat, voted "present," and North Texas Republicans Kay Granger and Roger Williams did not vote.

What's next: The Senate has indicated it will move slowly on the measure, and Texas' Republican senators have been noncommittal about their planned vote.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, said the chamber should "examine" the bill, per the Washington Post.
  • "I'm concerned about Chinese surveillance and espionage," Cruz told CNBC last week, without indicating whether he supports the bill.
  • Sen. John Cornyn has also called the app "a serious national security problem."

Go deeper: TikTok ban timeline


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