Two TikTok Updates

Drew Harwell, Washington Post:

But the extent to which the United States evaluated or disregarded TikTok’s proposal, known as Project Texas, is likely to be a core point of dispute in court, where TikTok and its owner, ByteDance, are challenging the sale-or-ban law as an “unconstitutional assertion of power.”

The episode raises questions over whether the government, when presented with a way to address its concerns, chose instead to back an effort that would see the company sold to an American buyer, even though some of the issues officials have warned about — the opaque influence of its recommendation algorithm, the privacy of user data — probably would still be unresolved under new ownership.

You may recognize the deal Harwell is writing about if you read my exploration of the divestment law. While TikTok claimed in its lawsuit (PDF) that the Biden administration was the party responsible for cancelling this deal with CFIUS, I did not see that confirmed anywhere else. Harwell’s reporting appears to support TikTok’s side of events. Still, there is frustratingly little explanation for why the U.S. was unsatisfied with this settlement.

Krystal Hu and Sheila Dang, Reuters:

TikTok is working on a clone of its recommendation algorithm for its 170 million U.S. users that may result in a version that operates independently of its Chinese parent and be more palatable to American lawmakers who want to ban it, according to sources with direct knowledge of the efforts.

The work on splitting the source code ordered by TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance late last year predated a bill to force a sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations that began gaining steam in Congress this year. The bill was signed into law in April.

TikTok says this story is “misleading and factually inaccurate” and reiterates that divestiture is, according to them, impossible. But TikTok already began preparing for this eventuality in 2020, so it is hard to believe the company would not want to figure out ways to make this possible should its current lawsuit fail and the law be allowed to stand.