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TikTok CEO finds no allies among U.S. lawmakers in tense Congress grilling

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US lawmakers on Thursday lashed out at TikTok’s CEO over data security and harmful content, backing his assurances that the hugely popular video-sharing app prioritizes user safety and shouldn’t be banned. He responded with skepticism at a tense committee hearing.

Shou Zi Chew’s rare public appearance comes at a crucial time for the company, which has 150 million American users, but comes under increasing pressure from US authorities. TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance are embroiled in the broader geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington over trade and technology.

In a bipartisan effort to curb the power of major social media platforms, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have criticized TikTok’s content moderation practices, how the company protects U.S. data from Beijing, its espionage campaign against journalists, and more. I pressured Chew on many topics. .

Kathy McMorris Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “Mr Chu, you are here because the American people are concerned about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security. Because we need the truth of

Chew, 40, from Singapore, told the commission that TikTok prioritized the safety of its young users and denied it was a national security risk. He reiterated the company’s plan to protect US user data by storing it on servers controlled and owned by software giant Oracle.


“Let me make this clear: ByteDance is not an agent for China or any other country,” Chew said.

TikTok claims that Chinese ownership means user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, or that it could be used to further a narrative favorable to China’s Communist Party leaders. have been plagued by

In 2019, The Guardian reported that TikTok was instructing moderators to censor videos referring to Tiananmen Square (the site of the 1989 protests and massacre) and images unfavorable to the Chinese government. The platform says it has since changed its moderation practices.

ByteDance admitted in December that it fired four employees last summer who had access to the data of two journalists and their associates while trying to source leaked reports about the company. I was.

The TikTok app download page will appear on phones in August 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, TikTok has sought to distance itself from its Chinese origins, saying ByteDance is 60% owned by global institutional investors such as the Carlyle Group. China said it would oppose any US attempt to force ByteDance to sell the app, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Chew refuted the notion that TikTok ownership was an issue.

“Trust is about the actions we take,” he said. “Ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns.”

Dramatic footage shown at public hearing

In one of the most dramatic moments, Republican Rep. Cat Camack shoots a gun captioned TikTok, including a House committee holding a hearing, along with the exact date before it was officially announced. played the video.

“You expect us to believe that we can maintain the data security, privacy, and security of the 150 million Americans who can’t even protect the people in this room.

TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe said on Thursday that the company had removed the violent video targeting the committee and banned the account that posted it.

A person who gestures and asks another person a question during a hearing.
Florida Republican Rep. Kat Cammack, right, asks Mr. Chu during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Just as the Energy and Commerce Commission questioned Mr. Chu, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Brinken was questioned about the threat TikTok poses during a separate, but concurrent, Commission hearing. When asked by Ken Buck, a Republican congressman from Colorado, if the platform poses a security threat to the United States, Blinken said:

“Shouldn’t threats to US security be banned?” Buck asked.

“It should end somehow. But there are different ways to do it,” Brinken replied.

A person sitting in a suit speaks into a microphone while people sitting behind them look on.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will address a separate hearing Thursday at the Capitol. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Committee members also showed users a number of TikTok videos encouraging self-harm and suicide. Many questioned why his Douyin, the Chinese version of the platform, does not feature the same controversial and potentially dangerous content as the American product.

Chew replied that it depends on the laws of the country in which the app is operating. He said the company has about 40,000 moderators who track harmful content and algorithms that flag material.

Asset management firm Wedbush said the hearing was a “disaster” for TikTok, making it more likely that the social media platform would be banned if it was not separated from its Chinese parent company.

Emir El Nems, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, said the ban would benefit TikTok’s rivals YouTube, Instagram and Snap, “likely increasing their overall revenue share across ad wallets.” Told.

Unclear how the ban works

The US ban on the app is unprecedented and it is unclear how the government will enforce it.

Experts say authorities may force Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores. The US could also block access to TikTok’s infrastructure and data, seize domain names, and force internet service providers to filter his TikTok’s data traffic, Boston said. Ahmed Ghappour, a criminal law and computer security expert who teaches at a university law school.

To sidestep the ban, TikTok is trying to pitch stakeholders on a $1.5 billion U.S. plan to route all U.S. user data to domestic servers owned and controlled by software giant Oracle. .

In this project, access to US data will be controlled by US employees through a separate organization called TikTok US Data Security. This organization operates independently of ByteDance and is monitored by external observers.

See | Why was TikTok banned on Canadian government devices?:

Why was TikTok banned on government devices?

Ottawa has banned TikTok on all Canadian government devices. Andrew examines why an app so popular with Gen Z is causing concern at the federal level.

As of October, all new US user data was stored in the US. The company began removing all historical US user data from its non-Oracle servers this month. The process is expected to be completed this year, Chew said.

Congress, the White House, the U.S. military, and more than half of U.S. states have already banned the use of apps on official devices.

But it may be difficult to wipe out all data tracking associated with the platform.In a report released this month, cybersecurity firm Feroot found that so-called tracking pixels from ByteDance that collect user information were found in apps. was found on websites in 30 US states, including sites where it was banned.

Other countries, including Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, have already banned TikTok from government-issued devices, along with the European Union.

Risk of possible ban

A complete ban on TikTok in the US could lead to political and public backlash.

The company sent dozens of popular TikTokkers to the Capitol on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to keep the platform alive.

Watch | TikTok Supporters, Detractors Converge in Washington:

TikTok Supporters and Opponents Gather in Washington

As US lawmakers asked TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the popular app, people both for and against banning TikTok appeared outside the Capitol.

And 12 civil rights and free speech organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and PEN America, have signed a letter against the mass ban on TikTok, arguing it sets a “dangerous precedent for restricting speech.” I’m here.

Former U.S. government intelligence officer David Kennedy, who runs cybersecurity firm TrustedSec, said it seems wise to restrict access to TikTok on government-issued phones because it may contain sensitive information. He said a nationwide ban might be too extreme.

“China has Tesla, China has Microsoft, China has Apple. Are they going to start banning us now?” Kennedy said. “It can escalate very quickly.”

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