TikTok CEO Testifies Before Congress: Here Are Some of the Key Moments
On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Chew faced skeptical lawmakers in the US Congress in an attempt to fend off calls to ban the hugely popular video app.
“There are over 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them,” Chew said in prepared remarks for his appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration demanded that ByteDance, the app’s Chinese parent company, sell its stake in the app or face a possible ban. Officials fear TikTok could be forced to share US user data with the Chinese government, which would pose a national security threat. In December, US lawmakers banned the app from government devices. Other countries, including CanadaEU member states and Taiwan have taken similar steps.
On Thursday, lawmakers repeatedly questioned Chew about ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese government, expressing doubts about TikTok’s ability to protect US user data. They also alleged that TikTok could be used by the Chinese government to influence public opinion in the United States.
Although the primary focus of the hearing focused on alleged ties to China, lawmakers also addressed other concerns, including data collection and protecting teens and young people from harmful content on TikTok. .
Following the hearing, TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said the hearing was “dominated by political grandstanding” and did not address industry-wide issues.
“Also not mentioned today by Committee members: the livelihoods of the 5 million businesses on TikTok or the First Amendment implications of banning a platform loved by 150 million Americans,” said Oberwetter.
Here are some of the most interesting comments from the audience:
Committee Chair, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in her opening statement: “Mr. Chew, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security. TikTok collects nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s locations to what ‘they type and copy, biometrics and more. … TikTok is watching us all. And the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole. We don’t believe that TikTok will one day embrace American values.”
She continued, “TikTok has repeatedly chosen a path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned. I expect you today to say anything to avoid this outcome.”
Chew, in his opening statement: “We have heard significant concerns about the potential for unwanted foreign access to US data and potential manipulation of the US TikTok ecosystem. We have responded to them with real action. … We have been doing this for two years , building what amounts to a firewall that seals off US user data protected from unauthorized foreign access. The bottom line is: US data, stored on US soil, by a US company, overseen by American personnel. We call this initiative Project Texas.”
Chew, on old US data: “We have US legacy data on our servers in Virginia and Singapore. We are deleting it and hopefully this will be completed this year. When this is done, all protected US data will be under the protection of US law and under the control of the security team led by the United States. This eliminates the fear that some of you have expressed to me that TikTok user data may be subject to Chinese law.
Rep. Buddy Carter, on harmful viral videos like the Milk Crate Challenge: “Why does TikTok consistently fail to identify and moderate these kinds of harmful videos? Why are you allowing this to continue? We’ve heard before…from parents who are here with us who have lost children.”
Chew responds, “It’s a real challenge for the industry and we’re working on our…”
Carter: “No, no, it’s not the industry. It’s TikTok. We’re talking about TikTok. We’re talking about why you can’t control this. … Tell me why this is going on.”
Rep. Darren Soto, on the property of ByteDance: “Mr. Chew, would TikTok be willing to divest ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party if the Treasury Department asked all of you to do so?”
Chew responds, “I don’t think ownership is the issue here. With great respect, American social enterprises don’t have a good track record when it comes to data privacy and user security. I mean look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, just for one example.”
Representative Neal Dunn asks Chew directly: “Did ByteDance spy on Americans under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party?”
Chew responds, “No.”
Dunn continues, citing a Forbes article that ByteDance planned to use TikTok to monitor the location of US citizens: “I ask you again, Mr. Chew: Did ByteDance spy on US citizens?”
Chew responds, “I don’t think spying is the right way to describe it. It’s ultimately…” Dunn cuts off his response.
Rep. August Pfluger, on Project Texas: “Please rename your project. Texas is the wrong name. We stand for freedom and transparency, and we don’t want your project.”
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