Tech giant Oracle audits TikTok algorithms for Chinese Communist Party manipulation
US tech company Oracle is auditing the algorithms and content moderation rules of ultra-popular social media platform TikTok to check for manipulation by the Chinese Communist Party, Axios reported on Tuesday. The investigation is part of parent company ByteDance’s ongoing efforts to clear its name after former President Donald Trump threatened to ban it altogether in the United States.
The move is part of “Project Texas”, the company’s response to a BuzzFeed report that found some China-based employees had access to TikTok user data. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew described the project as an effort to “help build trust with users and key stakeholders by improving our systems and controls” as well as “make substantial progress toward compliance with the final agreement with the U.S. government that will fully protect user data and U.S. national security interests.”
TikTok admitted that some Chinese employees could access its data, but insisted it was “subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.” The company also promised that its AI would be trained in Oracle’s cloud and pledged to move all US user data to Oracle servers located in the US. It will delete users’ private data from its own servers and “Fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the United States”, he reassured Washington in a statement following the BuzzFeed debacle.
The BuzzFeed article inspired a bipartisan revival of anti-TikTok sentiment and led Federal Communications Commission chief Brendan Carr to plead with Apple and Google to remove the app from their app stores, saying its “pattern of covert data practices” laid “an unacceptable risk to national security”. He described ByteDance as “an organization beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and bound by Chinese law to comply with PRC surveillance requirements.”
US tech giants have reason to fear that TikTok is fully tied to potential ties to the Chinese government, as the app receives more engagement per day from users than comparable US apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Coupled with the fact that TikTok’s algorithm is praised in the tech press for “know the users better than themselves” – the app has become infamous for its alleged ability to guess users’ sexuality, uncover past traumas that may or may not exist, and even inspire mental illness – it’s not hard to see why American Big Tech wants to understand what makes it work.
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