ByteDance, the company that owns popular social media app TikTok, is attempting to separate itself from its Chinese operations, as a probe of the company is ongoing, according to a report by CNBC.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is investigating what the Chinese company is doing with the personal data it has on millions of U.S. teenagers. ByteDance wants to assure CFIUS that U.S. data is stored in country, and not accessible by Chinese authorities.
The organization is also investigating the $1 billion acquisition of Musical.ly, which helped TikTok’s meteoric rise. Even before the probe began, ByteDance started to separate TikTok, so that staff could focus more on it.
The Chinese version of TikTok is called Douyin, and ByteDance separated the American version's marketing, legal and product and development teams in Q3 of this year. The company also hired outside consultants to test the integrity of the stored data to make sure it couldn’t be compromised.
The company also has plans for a data management team in Mountain View, California. The team will ascertain if engineers based in China will have access to the app’s database. ByteDance also plans on hiring engineers in the U.S. to lessen the company’s reliance on China.
Nevena Simidjiyska, a partner at law firm Fox Rothschild, who advises companies on CFIUS reviews, said the moves are necessary if it wants to appease the regulators.
“Shifting a company’s operations away from China, geographically and technically, can give CFIUS more comfort that the company is really independent of its Chinese owner and the Chinese government,” she said.
TikTok has a staff of about 400 in the U.S., which is up from 20 when it acquired Musical.ly. There are about 50,000 ByteDance employees all around the world. The probe is mostly focused on data, but the app has been criticized for censoring content in China.