The CEO of TikTok got a hostile welcome from the chair of a U.S. Congressional committee today when he came to Washington to testify.
“You are here because America needs the truth” about the company, Cathy Rogers, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, told Shou Chew.
“TikTok surveils us all, and the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America. We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values, values for freedom, human rights and innovation. TitTok has repeatedly turned to the path for more controls, more surveillance and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned.”
Committee room where TikTok’s CEO testified March 23, 2023
“I expect today you’ll say anything to avoid this outcome, like you are 100 per cent responsible for what TikTok does, that you suddenly endorse a national data privacy standard, that Project Texas [to house American TikTok data on Oracle servers in the U.S.] is more than a marketing scheme, that TikTok doesn’t harm our innocent children, or that your ties to the Chinese Communist Party through ByteDance are just a myth. We aren’t buying it”
“TikTok has repeatedly been caught in the lie that it does not answer to the CCP through [parent company] ByteDance,” Rogers, a Republican from Washington State, said. “Many of your employees still report direct to Beijing.”
“From the data it collects to the content it controls, TikTok is a grave threat of foreign influence in American lives.”
In his five-minute opening address, Chew struck back vigorously, trying to protect the company’s huge American business. Some 5 million American companies use the video app. There are an estimated 150 million American subscribers.
In the last two years, TikTok has been “building what amounts to a firewall that seals off protected U.S. data from unauthorized foreign access,” he said.
“Today, U.S. TikToK data is stored by default in Oracle servers” in Texas, he said. “Only vetted personnel in a new company called TiKTok U.S. Data Security can control access to this data. There are plans for this company to report to an American independent board with strong security credentials.”
There is legacy data still stored in Virginia and Singapore, he acknowledged, but said it will be deleted this year. “Then all U.S. data will be under the protection of U.S. law,” he said.
“This eliminates the concern that some of you have shared with me that TikTok user data can be subject to Chinese law.”
Parent company ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government, Chew added. It is 60 per cent owned by global institutional investors, 20 per cent by employees and 20 per cent by the company’s founders. ByteDance has five board directors, three of whom are American.
In a written submission to the committee, he also said TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government. “Nor would TikTok honour such a request if one were ever made. Indeed, a 2021 report from [the University of Toronto’s] Citizen Lab, an internationally renowned security research laboratory, found that there was no overt data transmission by TikTok to the Chinese government, and that TikTok did not contact any servers within China.”
That report also says that data collection on TikTok behaves much like Facebook and other popular social platforms, and shares the same privacy issues these apps have. TikTok tracks user behaviour for targeted advertising and platform customization, the report says and this data is shared with third parties. “If you are not comfortable with that level of data collection and sharing,” the report advises, “you should avoid using the app.”
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