TikTok CEO Shou Chew is being questioned by members of Congress on Thursday as lawmakers try to decide what the platform’s future holds in the U.S.
TikTok reports it has more than 150 million users in the U.S., meaning a potential ban would affect many Americans.
In recent weeks, President Joe Biden signaled support for bipartisan legislation that would give him the authority to ban social media apps that are deemed a national security threat.
The FBI had previously determined that TikTok could be a potential national security concern over its ties to the Chinese Communist Party — ties that TikTok executives say are way overblown.
In prepared remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chew told lawmakers that TikTok takes security seriously.
“We collect a limited amount of information when people set up an account, such as date of birth and username,” Chew said. “Depending on how the individual signs up, we may also collect a phone number or email address. Unlike some other platforms, we do not require people on TikTok to provide us with their real names during registration, nor do we ask them about their employment or relationship status. Current versions of the app do not collect precise or approximate GPS information from U.S. users.”
The reason TikTok is the target of a possible ban is that TikTok's parent company, Bytedance, has financial connections to the Chinese Communist Party.
“I am well aware that the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party,” Chew said. “There have even been calls to ban us or require divestment. I steadfastly believe that all concerns that have been raised have solutions. Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives. But we do have an alternative—one that we believe addresses the concerns we’ve heard from this committee and others.”
Chew stated that TikTok is currently developing platform research and content moderation APIs to help bring transparency to how the platform operates.
Lawmakers have claimedthat connection could allow China to turn the app into a surveillance tool, an accusation TikTok executives have repeatedly pushed back on.
“I understand that there are concerns stemming from the inaccurate belief that TikTok’s corporate structure makes it beholden to the Chinese government or that it shares information about U.S. users with the Chinese government,” Chew said. “This is emphatically untrue.”
Some lawmakers seem unmoved by Chew’s comments.
“TikTok collects nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s locations to what they type and copy, who they talk to, biometric data, and more,” said Rep. Cathy Anne McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican. “We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values—values for freedom, human rights, and innovation. TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance, and more manipulation,” said Rep. Rodgers
According to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan platform tracking political spending, TikTok has spent over 10 million dollars in recent years trying to convince lawmakers that TikTok data is safe.
In recent days, Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York has announced his support for TikTok staying legal in the U.S.
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