Main menu


Lawmakers grill tiktok ceo shou zi chew for five hours in high-stakes hearing on app

tiktok ceo congressional hearing

tiktok ceo congressional hearing

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was questioned for nearly five hours by dozens of lawmakers about the safety and security of the immensely popular app at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday.

tiktok ceo congressional hearing

Both Republicans and Democrats questioned the 40-year-old Chew about his company's ties to China, data privacy, the potential for teenagers to become hooked on the app, misinformation, and fentanyl.

Of particular interest was the concern that Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok, may be sharing data on U.S. users with the Chinese government.

Committee Chair Kathy McMorris Rodgers (D-Wash.) said, "To the American people watching today, I want you to say this: TikTok is a weapon for the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see, and use it for the benefit of future generations."

tiktok ceo hearing

Rogers asked Chew to say with "100% certainty" that neither Chinese authorities nor employees of TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, could use the app to spy on Americans or promote content favorable to Chinese interests.

According to Chew, TikTok does not promote or remove content at the request of Chinese authorities. He said the app is "free from any government manipulation."

Rogers shot back: "If you can't say with 100% certainty, I take that as a no."

Chew's appearance came shortly after White House officials told TikTok that it needed to back off ByteDance or face severe punishment, including a ban. A bipartisan group of lawmakers increasingly view TikTok as a threat. They fear that China's authoritarian regime could use the app to spy on or intimidate the millions of Americans who use it every day.

After the hostile hearing, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said the day was "dominated by political grandstanding" and did not acknowledge TikTok's current attempts to address the issues raised by lawmakers.

Oberwetter said in a statement, "Nor did the committee members address the lives of the 5 million businesses on TikTok today or the First Amendment implications of banning a platform beloved by 150 million Americans."

U.S. authorities have not presented any evidence that Chinese authorities have accessed information about Americans using the app, but national security experts say that is a distinct possibility.

Similarly, there is no indication that the Chinese government influenced the app's recommendation algorithm, but experts say it is possible.

According to Forbes, TikTok admitted that a Chinese employee had access to the data of a handful of American journalists who were reporting leaked information about the company. The case is currently being investigated by the Department of Justice.

Members of both parties asked about "spying" and "surveillance" and "Project Texas"

During the hearing, Chew was questioned about whether the app shares data with the Chinese government. Many legislators used words like "spying" and "surveillance," and Chew disagreed with the phrasing.

When asked if TikTok employees can spy on or target people in the U.S., Chew did not directly answer "yes" or "no."

He said, "We have not seen any evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data. They have never asked us and we have not provided it."

The Biden administration told TikTok earlier this month that the Chinese owner would face a ban if it did not sell its stake in the app to a U.S. company, and TikTok offered an alternative plan called "Project Texas," which it is currently working on.

Under this project, TikTok would be restructured and user data in the U.S. would be stored at Oracle, a software company in Austin, Texas. In this scenario, the Chinese government would not have access to the data, which would be monitored by Oracle. Essentially, it would act as a firewall.

"Project Texas" would cost TikTok $1.5 billion and employ thousands of people focused on data security.

Chew acknowledged Thursday that until Project Texas is completed, TikTok's Beijing-based employees will still have access to U.S. user data. However, under the restructuring, a digital firewall will prevent Chinese employees from accessing the personal information of U.S. citizens.

"The bottom line is this: American data will be stored on American soil, by American companies, and overseen by American personnel," Chu said at the outset.

The legislators did not seem convinced.

I believe that the communist government in Beijing will still have control and influence over your actions," said Frank Pallone, the committee's top Democrat.

Lawmakers continued to rebuke the CEO over child safety, misinformation, and targeted advertising. Politicians brought up the death of a 12-year-old child after seeing a TikTok post about the "Blackout Challenge," which involves holding your breath until you pass out.

They also pointed out that the app promotes misinformation about anti-vaccine and voter suppression campaigns. They called TikTok a "propaganda machine" and noted that Chew is "talking out of his ass."

Chew countered that there are parental controls and other measures to prevent the app from becoming addictive.

As for protecting user data, Chew said: "I don't think ownership is an issue."

"American social companies don't have a good track record on data privacy and user security," he said, pointing to the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which Facebook users' personal data was used for political advertising.

But lawmakers seemed unmoved by Chu's answer.

Rep. Gary Palmer of Alabama suggested that as long as TikTok is tied to ByteDance, measures to enhance data security cannot be trusted.

Palmer said, "You have used the word transparency repeatedly during this hearing." And every time you said it, all I heard was 'deception.


table of contents title