On Friday, TikTok revealed that it had started routing American users’ data to US-based servers possessed by Oracle. In addition, TikTok employees in China have “repeatedly” accessed US users’ data over at least several months.
In recordings of internal staff meetings and presentations, TikTok employees reportedly mentioned having to ask their colleagues in China to access US user data as they couldn’t access this data themselves.
TikTok trust and safety team member allegedly stated that “Everything is seen in China,” while another worker said a China-based creator “had access to everything.”
These events reportedly transpired between September 2021 and January 2022 and followed similar allegations detailed by CNBC last year.
TikTok has encountered years of criticism for potentially exposing the data of US users to China, where TikTok’s parent organization, ByteDance, is based. In 2020, former President Donald Trump threatened TikTok with a nationwide ban and attempted to force the company into separating its US-based assets from ByteDance, calling it a threat to national security.
While TikTok never really did sell its US-based assets, it discussed making American software company Oracle its “trusted technology partner.” The deal seemed like it was on its last leg after President Joe Biden took office but ended up reemerging in March with reports of something called Project Texas.
This initiative, which refers to the Texas-based headquarters of Oracle, is supposed to guard US users’ data in Oracles servers, barring access from the China-based ByteDance. It looks like some form of this deal is underway now, as TikTok has announced its transition to Oracle’s servers.
“We’ve been operating with Oracle on several measures for more than a year, as an element of our commercial relationship to safeguard our app, systems better, and the security of US user data,” Albert Calamug, the head of TikTok’s US security and public policy writes. “Today, 100% of US user traffic is routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.”
The company adds that it will use its Virginia and Singapore-based servers for backups. Still, it aims to delete users’ private data from these servers to “fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US.” It’s unclear when TikTok plans to shift entirely to Oracle’s servers, and the company didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.
“These are necessary steps, but there is more we can do,” Calamug resumes. “We know we are among the most examined platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any distrust about the safety of US user data.”
The TikTok mobile app permits users to create short videos, which often feature music in the background and can be flown up, slowed down, or edited with a filter. They can also measure their sound on top of the background music. To assemble a music video with the app, users can choose background music from various music genres, revise it with a filter and record a 15-second video with rate adjustments before uploading it to communicate with others on TikTok or other social outlets. They can also shoot short lip-sync videos to widespread songs.
The “For You” portal on TikTok is a spread of videos recommended to users based on their activity on the app. Content is developed by TikTok’s artificial intelligence (AI) depending on the content a user liked, interacted with, or explored. This contrasts with other social networks’ algorithms basing such content on the user’s relationships with other users and what they enjoyed or interacted with. Users can also add to favorites or select “not interested” on videos for their page.
TikTok incorporates the user’s enjoyed content to provide videos they would enjoy. Users and their content can only be featured on the “for you” page if they are 16 or above, as per TikTok policy. Users under 16 will not appear under the “for you” page, the sounds page, or any hashtags.
The app’s “react” feature permits users to film their reaction to a specific video, over which it is positioned in a small window that is movable around the screen. Its “duet” feature authorizes users to film a video aside from another. The “duet” feature was another brand of musical.ly. However, the duet feature can only be used if both parties modify the privacy settings.
Videos that users do not like to post can be stored in their “drafts.” The user is allowed to see their “drafts” and post when they find them fitting. The app authorizes users to set their accounts as “private.” The user’s account is public by default when first downloading the app. After that, the user can change to private in their settings.
Personal content stays visible to TikTok but is blocked from TikTok users who the account holder has not authorized to consider their content. Users can select whether any other user, or only their “friends,” may interact with them through the app via messages, comments, or “react” or “duet” videos. Users also can assign specific videos to either “friends only,” “public,” or “private,” regardless if the account is private or not.
Users can also report accounts depending on the account’s content, whether spam or inappropriate. In TikTok’s support center beneath “For Parents,” they reassure the parents that unacceptable content for their kids can be blocked and reported.
When users track other users, a “following” page is on the left of the “for you” page. It is a page only to catch the videos from the accounts a user follows. Users can add hashtags, filters, videos, and sounds to their “saved” section. They can refer to their saved section or make a video straight from it when creating a video. This section is visible only to the user on their profile, allowing them to refer to any video, hashtag, filter, or sound they have previously saved.
Users can also send their friends videos, emojis, and messages with direct messaging. TikTok has also included a feature to construct a video based on the user’s comments. Influencers often use the “live” part. This feature is only available for those who have at least 1,000 followers and are over 16 years old. If over 18, the user’s followers can dispatch virtual “gifts” that can be later swapped for money.
One of the unique features as of 2020 is the “Virtual Items” of the “Small Gestures” feature. It is based on China’s extraordinary practice of social gifting. Since this feature was added, many beauty companies and brands have created a TikTok account to participate in and advertise this feature.
With the COVID-19 lockdown in the United States, social gifting has grown in popularity. The campaign was launched due to the lockdown “to build a sense of support and motivation with the TikTok community during these harsh times.”
TikTok declared a “family safety mode” in February 2020 for parents to be able to manage their children’s digital well-being. There is a restricted mode, screen time management option, and can put a limit on direct messages.
The app extended its parental controls feature called “Family Pairing” in September 2020 to provide parents and guardians with educational resources to comprehend what kids on TikTok are exposed to.
In October 2021, TikTok established a test feature allowing users to tip specific creators directly. In addition, accounts of users of age who have at least 100,000 followers and agree to the terms can trigger a “Tip” button on their profile, which permits followers to tip any amount, initiating from $1.
In December 2021, TikTok started beta-testing Live Studio, a streaming software that would let users broadcast applications open on their computers, including games. The software also launched with support for mobile and PC streaming. However, a few days later, users on Twitter discovered that the software allegedly uses code from the open-source OBS Studio. OBS made a statement saying that, under the GNU GPL version 2, TikTok has to make the code of Live Studio publicly available if it wants to use any code from OBS.
In May 2022, TikTok declared TikTok Pulse an ad revenue-sharing program. It covers the “top 4% of all videos on TikTok” and is only available to creators with more than 100,000 followers. If an eligible creator’s video reaches the top 4%, they will receive a 50% share of the revenue from ads displayed with the video.