In this screenshot, the TikTok App Logo is displayed on a mobile phone.
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TikTok continues to attack Washington, DC, in a further effort to counter calls to ban the app in the US due to its Chinese ownership.
Top executives at the popular video app and their representatives have been explaining to members of Congress, academic researchers, think tank writers and others about the $1.5 billion effort they call Project Texas, detailing how TikTok believes it can address people’s concerns. what they see as a security threat, according to people who have been informed and media reports about the recruitment.
Some of the details emerged on Thursday from the security website Lawfare, where two people provided a summary of what they said they heard on another TikTok forum last week.
Matt Perault, one of the blog’s co-authors and director of the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that much of the political debate surrounding TikTok is based on speculation, and that the announcement was an opportunity to hear the company put some details.
“The debate should be based on the reality of planned activities instead of speculation about what those plans could be,” Perault said in a phone interview.
He said his institute received funding from TikTok, but he had no idea if TikTok’s verification was satisfactory. He said he saw his participation in this forum as an opportunity to hear information that he and others could pass on to the public. Some information was also reported by the New York Times on Thursday and at the beginning of this month by The Wall Street Journal.
TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its lobbying program on Thursday.
TikTok is facing the worst threat to its US operations since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump tried to block the app and failed in court. Some governments have banned TikTok from government computer networks, including public universities; Congress last month voted to ban TikTok from the federal government; and this week Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has raised the idea of a complete statewide ban.
It’s all part of a strategy by Chinese hawks and other TikTok critics to slowly corner TikTok and make it difficult or impossible for people to access the app in the US.
And TikTok’s problems have only deepened recently after reports about its employees spying on journalists at Forbes and its China-based employees accessing US user data.
It’s unclear whether TikTok’s latest efforts in Washington will make a difference, but it represents a shift in strategy for TikTok as it continues years of talks with the Biden administration about a potential security deal to ease security concerns.
“We have changed our approach,” Erich Andersen, general counsel of ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, told the Times.
Some of TikTok’s critics say they resent how easily the company has grown in Washington by paying top firms.
“China’s strategy is: Lure with money and reinforce with retaliation and intimidation,” said Keith Krach, former secretary of state under the Trump administration and CEO of technology company DocuSign.
An important partner of TikTok is the US computer giant, Oracle, which has its headquarters in Austin, Texas, where TikTok may choose to place the data of its US users. The code name “Project Texas” became public last year. Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Among the details disclosed by TikTok is that it will form a board of directors to oversee a new company focused on US data security, with TikTok appointing directors and US government officials reviewing names, according to a Lawfare blog post.