TikTok CEO to Testify Before Congress

March 23, 2023


The CEO of video sharing app TikTok, was set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday, as the platform faces a potential ban in the U.S. over national security concerns.

Shou Zi Chew planned to argue in his testimony that claims that the wildly popular app is beholden to the Chinese government are based on “misconceptions,” and he’d pledge that TikTok would safeguard U.S. user data from foreign interference.

Discussions between TikTok and the U.S. government have been going on for years. But in the past several months, Congress, the White House, and more than a dozen states have taken actions to ban TikTok on government devices. 

Further, there’s a proposal in the House of Representatives to ban TikTok in the U.S. nationwide on all devices. The legislation has already passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 1.

The bans began after FBI Director Chris Wray in November warned that the Chinese government could use TikTok to control data collection on millions of American users, or to control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations. 

Wray has further noted that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is based in China and is therefore required by law to comply with requests made by the Chinese Communist Party. “This is a tool that is ultimately within the control the Chinese government, and it, to me, it screams out with national security concerns,” the FBI Director has said.

Last week, the Biden Administration reportedly levied an ultimatum at China: sell Chinese stakes in TikTok or face a possible ban on the app in the U.S.

But the Chinese government on Thursday said it would oppose any such plans by the U.S. to force ByteDance to sell TikTok and further warned that such a move would hurt investor confidence in the U.S.

The U.S. is not the only country with security concerns about TikTok, however. In February the European Union banned the app on the 32,000 or so devices of its 27 member nations’ staffers. Canada has also recently banned TikTok on its government devices.

Journalist Kara Swisher, who’s been covering the internet for nearly 30 years, notes that TikTok is different from other social media apps that may surveil users’ information—mostly to target users for advertising purposes—because of its connection to China’s government.

“In this case, it feels a little more frightening, in that it’s a state-run government,” Swisher said on Sunday. “Now, Tiktok has said these are rogue actors, but the fact that they can do it means they can do it. Meaning if China wants to do it, they can do it. And so that’s the big worry here…not only surveillance, but propaganda.”

In written testimony posted on the House Energy and Commerce Committee website, Chew touts TikTok’s “Project Texas” initiative under which it plans to form a special subsidiary called TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc. to oversee American users’ data and the TikTok U.S. platform under a contract with Oracle.

The move is ByteDance’s way of trying to come to an agreement with the U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, which in 2020 ordered ByteDance to divest from TikTok over national security fears.

“I steadfastly believe that all concerns that have been raised have solutions. Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives,” Chew wrote. “We do not believe that a ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country’s economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans, and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is the solution to a solvable problem.”

TikTok reportedly has more than 1 billion monthly active users in more than 150 countries worldwide, including a reported 150 million users in the U.S., the majority of whom are 18-24 years old. 

Read more exclusive news from Political IQ.

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