TikTok’s Project Texas is underway

  • by Arlo Gilbert
  • · posted on August 18, 2022
  • · 3 min read
TikTok’s Project Texas is underway

Happy Thursday, everybody! In this edition of Privacy Insider, I wanted to highlight the kickoff of TikTok’s “Project Texas.”

Many will remember the controversy that TikTok faced in recent years. The social media app is both highly popular and owned by a Chinese company, which raises concern given Beijing’s track record regarding data privacy. In fact, ByteDance — the company that owns TikTok — was ordered to sell off TikTok in 2020 by the Trump administration.

That never came to pass. Instead, TikTok promised to work with a US-based technology partner to create clones of its internal systems that would be based in and designed for the US. In theory, the Chinese government wouldn’t be able to access these US-based systems even if they wanted to. The initiative was called “Project Texas,” after the home state of Oracle, TikTok’s chosen technology partner.

The idea is that Oracle, as a neutral partner, will evaluate TikTok’s systems and host its data centers, preventing outside influence by Chinese authorities.

It’s a warranted move. In the past, TikTok employees have asserted that user data was regularly accessed by Chinese officials, and the Guardian reported that TikTok censored stories that displeased Beijing. 

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Creating a US-based team with US-based infrastructure and promising that China won’t influence its operations is all well and good. Given its history of data privacy violations, however, it remains to be seen whether the US team will truly be free from the influence of its Chinese counterparts.

But if Project Texas succeeds, it will be an interesting use case. International companies bump up against different countries’ data privacy practices all the time, so one solution might be to create segregated systems and teams for each jurisdiction. It’s certainly the approach that TikTok is taking: they have plans to replicate Project Texas in Europe as a means of handling the EU’s far more stringent data privacy laws.

Maybe this is an image of what the future internet will look like — a collection of cloned systems tweaked to fit the rules and regulations of different countries and jurisdictions.


Best,
Arlo


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About The Author · Arlo Gilbert

Arlo Gilbert is the CEO & co-founder of Osano. An Austin, Texas native, he has been building software companies for more than 20 years in categories including telecom, payments, procurement, and compliance. In 2005 Arlo invented voice commerce, he has testified before congress on technology issues, and is a frequent speaker on data privacy rights.