Who’s in Charge of Safety at TikTok, Now That Eric Han is Out?

Interim general manager Andy Bonillo will oversee the position until TikTok names a replacement.

The TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone screen
TikTok’s U.S. Data Security division needs a new trust and safety head. NurPhoto via Getty Images

Eric Han, TikTok’s U.S. head of safety, is leaving the company on May 12, according to an internal memo reported on by The Verge. The departure comes as TikTok faces criticism from legislators and lobbyists in the U.S. regarding its data privacy practices.

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Han joined TikTok’s safety team in 2019. In December, the company promoted him to head of trust and safety for the U.S. Data Security team (USDS), the independent division TikTok created in May 2022 to combat concerns about U.S. national security. It is responsible for TikTok’s Project Texas proposal, in which TikTok plans to store all U.S. user data in an Oracle data center in Texas.

“Over the past four years, Eric helped safeguard our U.S. community through an incredible stage of growth,” Andy Bonillo, USDS interim general manager, said in the company note, according to The Verge. Bonillo’s title is “interim” because the U.S. government hasn’t yet approved the company’s proposal and would be able to choose who runs the division. Until the company can find a replacement, Bonillo will take on Han’s role, according to The Verge.

When Han joined the company in 2019, TikTok had 381 million annual users, according to Business of Apps. That number has since grown to 1.46 billion. Its revenue also spiked in that time, from $350 million in 2019 to $9.4 billion last year, according to Business of Apps.

In his role as USDS head of trust and safety, Han oversaw compliance, safety strategies, and moderation for content involving the private data of U.S. users, according to a company statement. All eyes will be on Han’s replacement as they must work to convince the U.S. government the app doesn’t share data with the Chinese government and that its content is safe for users. At the U.S. House Energy and Commerce hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in March, legislators didn’t appear persuaded of Project Texas’s ability to safeguard user data. Both TikTok and Han didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Han was reportedly frustrated when TikTok appointed him as head of trust and safety at USDS, because he wanted a different role, according to Bloomberg. He called it a “poison chalice,” in which he could be pointed at as a scapegoat for the company, Bloomberg reported.

Who is Eric Han and what did he accomplish at TikTok?

Han has worked in trust and safety positions since 2009, when he began as a legal assistant at Google, according to his LinkedIn. He spent three years overseeing content moderation at Twitter and two years managing safety at Uber.

During his four years at TikTok, Han had a hand in curbing the spread of content that the company considered dangerous, like videos about eating disorders and conversion therapy programs. “If you search for something that we’ve determined is a dangerous challenge, you won’t find content around that,” Han said in an interview with Axios last year. “We’re also working to educate people around online challenges and steps they can take to assess viral warnings, including hoaxes. ”

The spread of dangerous challenges and content was something many legislators brought up with Chew at the House hearing. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida, said the company is not doing enough to protect children, citing the case of Chase Nasca, a 16-year-old who took his life after being exposed to videos about suicide on TikTok. 

Han also worked to prevent content creators from posting paid political messages in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections, which was an issue during the 2020 presidential elections, Han said in a briefing with reporters last year.

Who else is leaving TikTok?

Other key executives have left the company in the last year. In July 2022, Roland Cloutier, global chief security officer, stepped away from his role as TikTok restructured how it handled user data. Five department heads have left the company in two years over their inability to make key decisions, according to Forbes.

The USDS is run by Bonillo and interim security officer Will Farrell. It employs 1,400 workers and is hiring for 250 additional positions, but it hasn’t yet posted an application for Han’s role, according to TikTok’s careers page. TikTok has 7,000 employees in the U.S., the company said in a statement. It is unclear how many employees globally TikTok has.

Who’s in Charge of Safety at TikTok, Now That Eric Han is Out?