TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, Faces Tough Questions From Congress

TikTok is facing increasing scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers who are concerned about its potential national security risks and its impact on children.

On March 23, 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for the first time, hoping to ease some of these fears and defend his company’s practices.

The hearing, which lasted for more than five hours, was tense and combative from the start. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the committee, opened by saying that TikTok should be banned in the U.S.; accusing it of being a tool for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to collect sensitive information on 150 million American users. She also expressed concerns about TikTok’s addictive nature and its role in spreading harmful content such as misinformation, cyberbullying, and child exploitation.

Chew tried to counter these allegations by emphasizing TikTok’s independence from China and its efforts to protect U.S. user data and content moderation. He said that TikTok does not operate in mainland China. It is headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore, has 7,000 employees in the U.S., and is majority-owned by institutional investors from around the world.

He also said that TikTok has established a new corporate entity called TikTok U.S. Data Security; to oversee the handling of U.S. user data which is stored by default in Oracle’s servers on American soil. Chew added that only vetted personnel operating in this entity can access this data. He also said that they plan to report to an independent American board with strong security credentials.

Chew also highlighted some of the positive aspects of TikTok’s platform, such as its creativity, diversity, and social impact. He said that TikTok has helped millions of users express themselves, connect with others, and discover new opportunities. Chew cited examples of how TikTok has supported small businesses, artists, educators, and nonprofits during the pandemic. He also said that TikTok has invested heavily in developing robust policies and tools to ensure a safe and positive environment for its users.

TikTok CEO
TikTok CEO

However, Chew’s testimony did not seem to convince many lawmakers who remained skeptical about his company’s claims and actions. They grilled him with tough questions about how TikTok collects, uses, and shares user data; how it ensures compliance with U.S. laws and regulations; how it deals with foreign influence campaigns; how it protects children’s privacy and well-being; how it cooperates with law enforcement agencies; how it handles content moderation decisions; how it responds to user complaints; how it audits its security practices; how it communicates with its parent company ByteDance; how it plans to address future challenges; among other issues.

Some lawmakers also questioned Chew’s credibility as a witness, given his recent appointment as CEO in April 2022 after serving as ByteDance’s chief financial officer since May 2020. They suggested that he may not have the full authority or knowledge over TikTok’s operations or strategy.

What Now?

The hearing ended without any clear resolution or agreement between Chew and his congressional interrogators. It remains unclear whether Chew’s appearance will have any impact on easing the pressure on TikTok from Washington or averting a possible ban of the app in the U.S.

TikTok has been under fire from U.S. officials for several years due to perceived national security threats stemming from its ties to China through ByteDance. The Trump administration attempted to force ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok or face a ban on the app last year. He, however, failed after legal challenges from ByteDance and intervention from President Biden who ordered a review of Trump’s executive orders targeting Chinese-owned apps.

The Biden administration has not yet announced its decision on whether to continue pursuing a sale or ban of TikTok. It has, however, indicated that it will take a comprehensive approach to address national security risks posed by foreign-owned apps while respecting civil liberties and free expression rights.



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