Kendall Hill was in a meeting at Pegasus Park as TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in front of Congress on March 23. As Chew spoke to U.S. officials, Hill received a vague message from a friend.
“You’re blowing up right now,” read the message to the president, founder and CEO of Dallas-based Project Texas.
Project Texas, a nonprofit focused on projects such as helping citizens gain access to voting, is now looking to distance itself from the controversial social media app TikTok that Texas and other states banned from government-owned computers and cellphones over security concerns.
Hill said the nonprofit has a volunteer base of 500 people in Texas and, until November 2022, operated with a budget of less than $5,000.
The Chinese-owned company has launched a $1.5 billion initiative under the same name. TikTok’s Project Texas was created in an effort to restore American trust in TikTok’s operations.
TikTok’s initiative got underway in March 2021. The nonprofit also launched in March 2021 and was granted a trademark for the Project Texas title in July 2022.
TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said the company plans to eventually do away with the name.
Oberwetter said its use of Project Texas isn’t intended to identify a product, service or team, but rather a framework for how it plans to safeguard U.S. national security interests and protect user data. She said the name will be retired once that’s achieved.
Until then, Hill worries that TikTok is inadvertently damaging the nonprofit’s reputation.
With 150 million American users, the social media app carries considerable website search clout.
“Right now, if you Google ‘Project Texas,’ the entire search results are filled with TikTok. We’re at the bottom of the results now,” Hill said. “Now, we’re being associated with them. We’ve gotten calls from people who think we’re with TikTok. We just want them to stop using our name.”
In response, Hill and Project Texas sent a letter to TikTok in hopes of getting the popular app to drop the name. Though a lawsuit has not been filed, it said TikTok violated fair use laws.
See here and here for some background, and here for what the original Project Texas has to say about this. Gotta say, ByteDance should have at least done a Google search on “Project Texas” before settling on that name for its charm offensive. Seems like a pretty basic thing to do, and they’re kind of lucky that they landed on a nice little non-profit and not some astroturf wingnut group. Now that the original Project Texas has made themselves known, perhaps TikTok can move up its schedule to finish using that name.