Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, testified before the US Congress amidst rising anxieties regarding potential Chinese government influence over the social media platform and its security implications.
Chew faced aggressive questioning from the House Energy and Commerce Committee as he attempted to convince them that TikTok is taking concrete steps to address national security concerns raised by the US.
During the course of the four-hour hearing, Chew emphasized repeatedly that the TikTok app, which is owned by the Chinese technology firm Bytedance, has consistently maintained that it does not share data with the Chinese government, and does not pose a threat to its 150 million users in the US or share their data with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Debbie Lesko, a US lawmaker, cited India and other nations that have recently placed restrictions on TikTok while questioning Chew.
“This (TikTok) is a tool which is ultimately under the control of the Chinese government and screams out with national security concerns Mr Chew, how can all of these countries and our FBI director be wrong? asked Lesko.
“I think a lot of risks pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks. I have not seen any evidence,” Chew responded.
The Congresswoman once again reiterated and stressed on the India ban. “India banned TikTok in 2020. In March 21, a Forbes article revealed how data of Indian citizens who used TikTok remained accessible to employees at the company and its Beijing-based parent. A current TikTok employee told Forbes that nearly anyone with basic access to company tools can easily look up the closest contact and other sensitive information about any user,” Lesko informed her colleagues.
“This is a recent article; I have asked my team to look into it. We have rigorous data access protocols. There is no such thing that anybody can access the tools. So, I disagree with a lot of the conclusions,” Chew responded.
In 2020, India implemented a countrywide ban on TikTok and numerous other Chinese apps, such as the messaging app WeChat, due to concerns surrounding privacy and security. The ban was enforced shortly following a conflict between Indian and Chinese troops at LAC, which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and the injury of many others. Although the companies were provided with the opportunity to address concerns regarding privacy and security measures, the ban was finalized in January 2021.
“You damn well know that you cannot protect the data and security of this committee or the 150 million users of your app because it is an extension of the CCP,” Lawmaker Kat Cammack of Florida told Chew after playing a threatening video that was still on the platform more than a month after it had been posted, despite community guidelines barring violence or threats.
During a Congress hearing, Republican representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers inquired about the influence of Beijing on parts of TikTok’s app. In response, the chief of TikTok was unable to provide a “100 per cent guarantee” that Beijing did not have any influence. Chew stated that the company remains dedicated to ensuring that US user data is protected from “any unwanted foreign access” and that content on the app is not manipulated by any government.
Another lawmaker said he wasn’t convinced that TikTok’s security plans would work. “I still believe that the Beijing communist government will still control and have the ability to influence what you do,” he said, pushing back on what he said was TikTok’s attempt to portray itself as “a benign company that’s just performing a public service … I don’t buy it.”
The Chinese Commerce Ministry declared that it would not object to the mandatory sale of TikTok just hours before the hearing. They stated that any sale would require approval from the Chinese government and would involve the exportation of Chinese technology.
TikTok has already been prohibited on federal government devices, including those used by the military. Furthermore, several states within the US are currently prohibiting TikTok from being used on state government devices.