Veteran security exec Roland Cloutier is stepping down after two and half years as TikTok’s global chief security officer. According to TikTok, the change is part of a restructuring in how the app provider, owned by China’s ByteDance, manages data of U.S.-based users — amid heightened scrutiny from some U.S. lawmakers.
“Part of our evolving approach has been to minimize concerns about the security of user data in the U.S., including the creation of a new department to manage U.S. user data for TikTok,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and ByteDance VP of technology Dingkun Hong wrote in a memo to employees Friday, which TikTok shared publicly.
The decision to establish a dedicated U.S. security team “changes the scope” of the global chief security officer role, according to Chew and Hong. “With this in mind, Roland has decided to step back from his day-to-day operations as Global CSO, effective September 2nd.”
Two weeks ago, nine Republican senators revived concerns about TikTok’s China ties, sending Chew a letter demanding answers to allay fears that data on U.S. TikTok users could be accessed by the Chinese government.
In response, Chew reiterated TikTok’s recent claim that “100% of U.S. user traffic” is now being routed to Oracle’s cloud infrastructure in the country and that TikTok eventually plans to delete all American user data from its Singapore data centers. Under the revamped security plan, Chew said, TikTok will provide China-based employees “very limited” access to U.S. user data — which will not include private user information — “and it will only occur pursuant to protocols being developed with the U.S. Government.” In addition, TikTok continues to maintain that it has never shared data with the Chinese Communist Party, and that the Chinese government has not made any such requests.
After Cloutier steps down as global CSO, he will take on the role of strategic adviser to the company, continuing to work with senior leadership, according to TikTok. Kim Albarella, formerly TikTok’s head of global security risk, will serve as interim head of the global security organization. “We are confident in Kim’s deep understanding of security issues, combined with her more than 20 years of leadership and communications experience, and we are grateful to her for taking on this role,” Chew and Hong wrote.
Cloutier, in his own memo to TikTok staff, reiterated the message conveyed by Chew and Hong. “With our recent announcement about data management changes in the U.S., it’s time for me to transition from my role as Global Chief Security Officer into a strategic advisory role focusing on the business impact of security and trust programs,” he wrote.
Prior to joining TikTok in 2020, Cloutier spent about 10 years at ADP, and before that served as chief security officer at data-storage vendor EMC (now owned by Dell). In addition, he has more than a decade of experience serving the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs. Cloutier also is the author of business book “Becoming a Global Chief Security Executive Officer,” published in 2015.