Tiktok (Photo: ShutterStock)
Recently, Tik-Tok has faced a series of bans from Western governments, who see the platform as a threat to their national security and a spying device on behalf of the Chinese government.
For example, in December, Congress in the United States banned government employees from having the popular video application on their devices, while in the last two weeks the European Union and the Canadian government joined the ban.
The fear of legislators in these countries, that the Chinese government will bend the hand of Bitdance, the parent company of Tiktok, to give them information or try to influence the content presented to them.
To this end, today (Wednesday) Tiktok held a conversation with journalists from Europe, including "Walla".
The company's executives, including Theo Bertram, the company's government relations manager in Europe and Elaine Fox, TikTok's privacy manager in Europe.
In the conversation, the senior officials tried to explain and reassure, when the hidden tone was: please, trust us with your information - in a kind of a finger in the dam in an attempt to stop the flow of restrictions from Western governments.
First, the executives tried to diminish the publicly perceived connection of Tiktok's parent, ByteDance, to China and to it being originally a company founded by a Chinese (see also below).
Bertram emphasized that Bitdance is a "global company", incorporated in the Cayman Islands, where sixty percent of it is owned by various investors from around the world, another part by the employees and another twenty percent by the founders.
We will only note that Bytedance has interests in China, a sister company that produces other information products and a local Chinese subsidiary.
Both Bartram and Fox tried to emphasize that the information of Tiktok users in Europe (including Israel) is not stored in China, but in the United States and Singapore, and the company is currently working on a project called "Clover" (clover), under which server farms will be established for the company in Ireland and Norway with an investment of about one billion dollar, and that's where the information will go until the end of the year.
A similar project called "Texas" is taking place in the United States.
And yet, we note that some of the information, according to certain permissions and in certain cases, is processed in China.
According to the company's people, everything is done under permissions, with the consent of the European privacy teams, and according to the decision of a third-party supervisory body.
Fox also spoke about how the company handles our personal information: first, the information is anonymized so that it is not possible to associate a certain activity with a specific user, the information is further aggregated - that is, information on the actions of large groups of users is grouped together, so that a specific user cannot be identified in the same "cluster".
It should be noted by the way that Prof. Adi Shamir proposed at the time the same method of dividing into "drawers" for the biometric database to maintain information privacy - but was rejected by the government.
Tik Tok, on the other hand, adopted her.
And finally, Tik Tok implements something they call "differential privacy", that is, actions are "dismantled" from the user's profile, so that they cannot be returned and adjusted to a specific user and thus collect information about him.
Bytedance has interests in China, a sister company that produces other information products and a local Chinese subsidiary. (Photo: ShutterStock)
Supervision by a third party
To calm the journalists' concerns, Bertram emphasized in the conversation that, in addition to internal private oversight teams and boards, TikTok has appointed three independent third-party oversight bodies to monitor its information practices.
In the United States it is the information services giant Oracle and another company, while in Europe another company was hired - which Tiktok executives consistently refused to reveal the name of right now, saying they would reveal it at a later date.
However, these companies are supposed to supervise storage practices and the accessibility of information to employees and teams at TikTok, as well as the application's source code, about which concerns have also been expressed.
Oracle, on the face of it, is the entity that supervises TikTok on behalf of the United States government and also examines the source code that becomes the applications that we all download from Apple and Google.
Bertram also noted that external security researchers are also invited to check the company's information handling practices.
For those who don't know, in China, the National Security Law requires any company operating within the state to assist the Chinese military and intelligence in gathering information.
When asked what the company would do if required to provide the information under the same law, Bertram replied that the privacy teams would refuse to provide the information.
To calm the journalists' concerns, Bertram emphasized in the conversation that, in addition to internal private supervisory teams and boards, TikTok appointed three independent third-party supervisory bodies (Photo: Reuters)
To the question of "Wala!", TikTok people strongly denied that their founder resigned as CEO in 2021 due to pressure from the Chinese government and Bertram called the claim "untrue" (although this was published in an article about Zhang Yiming in "Forbes", and this fact was pointed out to them...), and according to them, they put up enough barriers and obstacles as detailed in the previous paragraphs, to prevent the Chinese government from interfering in their affairs. At the same time, to a question from another reporter,
Bertram admitted that a policy of "zero information" to the Chinese is impossible, Because this will not allow trade relations. "When a Chinese ship docks in the UK, is it 'zero information' about that ship?
Of course not," the government relations director pointed out. "But the information is not in China, and it is difficult for us to see how China would bend the hand of another nation state to obtain the information."
They are certainly trying to convince.