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TikTok CEO faces off with US lawmakers

March 23, 2023

There is momentum in the United States to ban the popular video app. But TikTok says it is taking actions to address security concerns.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in the US Congress
Chew's testimony comes at a crucial time for TikTok, as the social media app faces increasing pressure from US officials concerned about data security and user safetyImage: Jim Watson/AFP

TikTok's chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, told US lawmakers on Thursday that the app's China-based parent company, ByteDance, would not be manipulated by any government.

He was testifying before Congress, trying to sway lawmakers not to ban the short video app or force its sale to new owners.

Western officials have become increasingly concerned that China's government has links to the app that it could use for espionage or to push propaganda to its hundreds of millions of global users.

The US, the European Commission, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have already ordered officials to delete TikTok from their phones.

While the hearing was happening in the United States, the UK Parliament banned lawmakers from using the app via the government's internet network and on all parliamentary devices.

The US is reportedly considering an outright ban unless ByteDance, which has offices in Beijing, sells its stakes in the video-sharing app.

TikTok attempts to dispel national security concerns

"ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government and is a private company," Chew told the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

He said TikTok had been building a firewall for the past two years and all data of the 150 million US users would be stored in the US by the end of the year.  

He also said TikTok had third-party validaters and researchers to review its source code and algorithms.

"We believe what's needed are clear transparent rules that apply broadly to all tech companies — ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns," Chew said.

TikTok in the dock as Congressional hearings start

Chew faced an uphill battle with Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, who told him at the start of the meeting that "your platform should be banned."

"We do not trust TikTok," she said.

The top Democrat on the panel, Frank Pallone, echoed those sentiments.

"You're gonna continue to gather data, you're gonna continue to sell data ... and continue to be under the aegis of the Communist Party," Pallone said.

Politicians already moving to crack down on TikTok

Lawmakers from both parties in Congress have been working on legislation that would give President Joe Biden's administration more power to crack down on TikTok.

"We understand the popularity of TikTok," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday. "We get that."

"But the president's job is to make sure again that the Americans, national security is protected, as well," Jean-Pierre said.

The interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the US has reportedly told the popular video-sharing app to part ways with ByteDance to avoid a US ban.

China's Commerce Ministry said: "Forcing the sale of TikTok will seriously damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including China, to invest in the United States. If the news is true, China will firmly oppose it."

lo/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters)