TikTok shakes up security team as it faces renewed U.S. scrutiny

TikTok announced major changes to its security leadership on Friday as the social media platform faces renewed scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers over its ties to China.

The short-form video service’s global security chief Roland Cloutier will step down in September, transitioning to a senior advisor role while current security executive Kim Albarella will replace him on an interim basis, TikTok said. 

Cloutier was previously chief security officer at payroll firm ADP and joined the company in 2020 — a year when TikTok faced major security issues and then-President Donald Trump attempted to ban the app from the U.S. via executive order, citing national security concerns. Trump’s ban attempt was blocked in the courts. 

However, reporting by BuzzFeed last month based on dozens of recorded internal TikTok meetings revealed that private data about U.S. users was repeatedly accessed by employees based in China.

That reporting has drawn renewed scrutiny to TikTok’s data practices, including from Republican lawmakers and Federal Communications Commission member Brendan Carr

In response to an inquiry from lawmakers late last month, TikTok confirmed some private U.S. user data was accessed in China. However, the company also wrote that it was working to strengthen its security protocols for that information in conjunction with the U.S. government through an internal program dubbed “Project Texas.”

“Part of our evolving approach has been to minimize concerns about the security of user data in the US, including the creation of a new department to manage US user data for TikTok,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and ByteDance VP of Technology Dingkun Hong wrote in a joint message accompanying the announcement of Cloutier’s departure. “This is an important investment in our data protection practices, and it also changes the scope of the Global Chief Security Officer (CSO) role.” 

On Thursday, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee requested documents for an investigation following up on BuzzFeed’s reporting. 

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson (they/them) is a longtime cybersecurity journalist who cut their teeth covering technology policy at ThinkProgress (RIP) and The Washington Post before doing deep-dive public records investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight.

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