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On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before a Congressional committee to defend the app from potential ban. He faced tough questions regarding its impact on children, their mental health and data security practices.
He asserted that ByteDance, the app's parent company, isn't a Chinese government-run enterprise and thus doesn't spy on U.S. citizens. Additionally, he mentioned Project Texas which would store user data within America with an in-house security team overseeing it.
Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok and one of the world's most popular social apps, has made a name for himself as an international figurehead. As CEO he's had to walk a delicate line between Western business interests and China's government which has long had misgivings about American-based firms' capacity for protecting national security.
On Thursday, he appeared before a group of lawmakers who have been advocating for an outright ban on TikTok. They accused the app of maintaining connections to Chinese authorities, having detrimental effects on children and teenagers, and using data for espionage purposes and more.
He spent four hours on the witness stand, answering hard-hitting questions from members of a House committee investigating ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. His testimony seemed to add fuel to the fire for an eventual nationwide ban on TikTok.
Despite his best efforts to distance TikTok from China, many members of the panel remained doubtful. They repeatedly asked whether the Chinese-owned company has sold user data or monitored U.S. citizens even as TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter criticized them for their political grandstanding.
After a brief break, the House Energy and Commerce Committee resumed their hearing with Chew. Throughout the hour-long session, lawmakers probed him on an array of topics from whether he would sell user data to any third parties to whether ByteDance employees in China could access TikTok users' data. In addition to more traditional inquiries, lawmakers also focused on his relationship with China as well as human rights conditions in China's Muslim-majority Uyghur region.
The app's relationship to China was repeatedly raised as it became evident that hostile legislators were determined to shut it down. Eventually, Chew was asked if he'd consider selling his stake in TikTok if the United States threatened to ban it.
He declined to provide a definitive response, but said he didn't believe TikTok has sold user data and its parent company isn't affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party. Furthermore, ByteDance denied using its data for espionage or targeting U.S. citizens in any way.
As the congressional hearing progressed, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department issued a statement which appeared to be related to TikTok. "TikTok has an obligation to protect its users' privacy and safety while meeting the demands of both its business and community," read the statement.
Given all this, TikTok CEO Shou Z Chew may need to reevaluate his priorities. Otherwise, he could find himself without a job soon enough.
On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew made his first public appearance on Capitol Hill to defend the video-sharing app against rising concerns about user data and security practices. On the House Committee for Energy and Commerce hearing, lawmakers from both parties quizzed him for five hours about national security matters as well as China's alleged influence over TikTok.
Congressmen have condemned TikTok, with 150 million users in the United States alone, for allowing its algorithms to be dictated by Chinese government policies. Furthermore, they accuse the company of not adequately moderating content which they claim has an adverse impact on children's mental health.
Lawmakers pressed Chew for proof that TikTok shares data with the Chinese government, warning it could be used for pro-Beijing propaganda and misinformation. They questioned if ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese parent company, has any connections to the Communist Party and claimed TikTok has failed to prevent harmful viral trends which have led to numerous suicides among younger users.
Due to these concerns, lawmakers in the U.S. have called for a ban on TikTok and legislation which would require companies to store their user data here in America.
Chew assured legislators that TikTok is doing all it can to protect its 150 million US users, including through "Project Texas", which allows its U.S.-based team to oversee the algorithms that determine what videos are posted on the platform. This prevents Beijing-based employees from having access to U.S. users' information; however, until this project is complete, these employees will still have a chance to view data they wouldn't normally view.
Chew also defended TikTok's practice of keylogging, which collects data when users type their passwords into the app. While not malicious in nature, this practice has raised privacy concerns among privacy experts who believe websites should not do this too often.
Chew used the hearing as an opportunity to showcase TikTok's business model, which emphasizes user interaction rather than advertising. Furthermore, he noted that TikTok was striving to exceed industry standards when it came to protecting user data and transparency.
Chew highlighted that TikTok had never shared user data with the Chinese government and was doing everything possible to safeguard user safety. He further mentioned TikTok's strong team in Washington, D.C. which helped him prepare for the hearing.
Chew has made many attempts to convince Congress that TikTok isn't being controlled by China's government. Ultimately, committee members must take action - either through banning TikTok or other legislation that limits Chinese influence over U.S. social media platforms.
On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing to question TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew. Lawmakers on the panel expressed their concern about the app as an potentially hazardous tool and national security risk. Additionally, they inquired into TikTok's connections to China, asking whether ByteDance employees had access to user data from outside of America.
Chew, a Singapore Army veteran and Harvard business school graduate, faced tough questions from lawmakers during his hearing. Additionally, he denied selling user data to TikTok or that its CEO Liang Rubo is associated with China's Communist Party.
At the hearing, Chew could not give lawmakers definitive yes or no answers on their questions about TikTok's relationship with China's government. However, he assured the committee that ByteDance is independent from Beijing and does not promote or remove content at its request. He further confirmed that TikTok does not collect more user data than competitors do; however, he declined to provide details regarding revenue or compensation figures for the company.
Representatives from both parties interrogated Chew over a number of matters, such as his app's links to China and its alleged failure to remove harmful content. They also probed him about a video posted by a user showing gunfire with threats directed against the committee and its chairman Representative Kat Cammack (R-FL).
The CEO attempted to deflect lawmakers' questions, noting that TikTok has three Americans on its board and is majority owned by institutional investors from around the world. Additionally, he highlighted TikTok's investment in content moderation and artificial intelligence technology to reduce the spread of harmful content.
Many lawmakers probed him about TikTok's relationships with China, asking whether it had provided the Chinese government with precise GPS data it collected from U.S. users or made inferences from that data. While he denied these assertions, some legislators raised the possibility that engineers in China could potentially access data stored on servers located in Virginia and Singapore.
He also defended TikTok's efforts to safeguard user privacy, noting the company has invested over $1.5 billion into safeguarding user data. According to He said, TikTok has built what amounts to a firewall, placing U.S. data under the care of TikTok U.S. Data Security where only authorized personnel can access it.
On several occasions, members of the committee asked if TikTok had ever shared user data with China's government. Mr. Liu denied this assertion and further clarified that TikTok does not sell user information and its CEO is not affiliated with either party.