TikTok gives new pledges to Europe on data security
Codename, “Project Clover”! Criticized in high places on the subject of data security and a few weeks after its ban by the European Commission on the smartphones of Brussels officials, the very popular application TikTok has made it its mission to reassure in Europe. On Wednesday March 8, two executives from the Irish and British subsidiaries of the company tried to erase in front of the press the asperities inherited from the Chinese origins of its parent company by presenting a data protection plan.
The strongest measure is inspired by the safeguards already deployed for a budget of 1.5 billion dollars in the United States, where TikTok has lived for three years with the threat of being completely banned there or forced to sell itself. to a local company. While the “Texas project” entrusts Oracle across the Atlantic with the task of securing access to American user data and auditing the source code of the application, the Clover project will assign these same tasks to a European company from the tech for the 150 million European users of the short video platform.
A European partner, new data centers
Preliminary discussions are underway, assured Theo Bertram, vice-president in charge of public affairs for TikTok in Europe. But it did not detail the name or names of the companies approached.
In addition, TikTok will intensify its investments in its data centers in Europe. It will devote 1.2 billion euros per year to it. The plan foresees the opening of a second data center in Ireland and a third hosting site in Norway. The idea is to store by default in these three places the data relating to European users, without being prohibited from passing them through other data centers for operational reasons, including in China.
“We comply with EU data protection regulations when it comes to cross-border data transfers,” insisted Elaine Fox, the privacy officer for the app. This point is precisely the subject of one of the two investigations launched by the Data Protection Commission, the Irish CNIL, under the watchful eye of its European counterparts.
Chinese influence or “international business”
In the backdrop of most criticism, the question of the influence of the Chinese state on the operations of TikTok and its parent company Bytedance appears to be the key point to be cleared up for the European executives of the company. “We consider ourselves an international company,” pleaded Theo Bertram, stressing that the group’s multiple offshoots comply with local regulations.
About Bytedance, he takes as reassuring the fact that “60% of the capital [soit] owned by large international investors like KKR, Sequoia, 20% by employees and 20% by founders who are not members of the Chinese Communist Party”. And this is how he answers questions about the specter of manipulation by Beijing of the content recommendation algorithm, the other big accusation leveled against TikTok. On this point, the European Commission is particularly awaiting TikTok on compliance from 2024 with the Digital Service Act, its recent legislation on the responsibility of large platforms in terms of moderation.
The pressure also continues to increase in the United States. In early March, a House of Representatives committee passed legislation authorizing the White House to sanction TikTok if the company is found guilty of propaganda on American soil. These days, a bipartisan bill from the Senate and backed by Joe Biden’s administration is attacking its side “to threats posed by technologies based in adversarial countries” and is considering interdiction measures. In a context of strong tension between China and the United States and while TikTok now appears to be the main competitor of the American Meta, the Texas project does not prevent the rise of skepticism from elected officials.