TikTok CEO Show Zi Chu testified before a bipartisan special committee in the US Congress. Writes about it The Guardian.
The interrogation lasted more than five hours. It was accompanied by contentious issues regarding the app’s relationship with China and child protection.
Chu’s appearance in Congress coincided with the push by US lawmakers to ban TikTok in the US. The company is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, raising concerns about China’s influence on the app.
Throughout the hearing, Chu tried to resist criticism and questions about ties to CPC.
“Let me be clear: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” he said in a prepared deposition.
“More than 150 million Americans love our platform and we know we have a responsibility to protect them,” Chu said.
Here are some of the other key issues that the head of TikTok faced at the hearing.
TikTok links to China
Many committee members focused on ByteDance and its leaders. Lawmakers say they are affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.
The committee members asked how often Chu communicates with ByteDance management. They also wondered if the solution proposed by the company would provide Project Texas sufficient protection from Chinese laws requiring the disclosure of user data to the government.
At one point, Congressman Tony Cardenas bluntly asked Chu if TikTok was a Chinese company. He replied that the service is global, not available in mainland China, and is headquartered in Singapore and Los Angeles.
Congressman Neil Dunn also bluntly asked if ByteDance was “spying on American citizens.”
“Espionage is a misnomer,” Chu replied.
Chu owns shares in ByteDance
During the hearing, Chu tried to distance TikTok from ByteDance. However, legally, a Chinese company owns the platform.
When asked about whether Chu owns ByteDance shares, he tried not to answer. However, under pressure from lawmakers, the head of TikTok responded in the affirmative, but tried to downplay the connection.
Concerns about the viability of Project Texas
In an effort to allay concerns about China’s influence, TikTok has promised to move all US user data to US servers as part of Project Texas. Under the plan, Oracle will be able to scrutinize TikTok’s source code and act as a third party.
The company promised to complete the work by the end of the year. However, some legislators have questioned whether it is possible to verify “hundreds of millions” of lines of source code in such a relatively short amount of time.
“I’m concerned that what you’re proposing under Project Texas simply doesn’t have the technical ability to give us the assurance we need,” said Rep. Jay Obernolte, who has programming experience.
At the same time, Chu admitted that the Chinese employees of ByteDance have access to the data of the Americans.
“We rely on global interoperability, Chinese engineers have access to data,” he said.
Youth safety and mental health
The safety of younger TikTok users has been another focus of attention. According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of people aged 13 to 17 are registered with the service. 16% of respondents from this group reported that they use it “almost all the time”.
Lawmakers cited reports that drug-related content was being distributed on the app. According to them, this allows teenagers to “easily buy dangerous substances on the Internet.”
Chu responded that such content violates TikTok policy and is removed upon discovery.
“We take this very seriously. […]. This is the task of the entire industry, and we are investing in it as much as we can. We don’t think most TikTok users are seeing this, but it’s happening,” he said.
Other members of the panel referred to materials about self-harm and eating disorders that are distributed on the platform. TikTok has previously faced lawsuits over “death challenges” that went viral on the app.
“We need you to play your part […]. It can save this generation,” Congresswoman Kim Schrier said.
When asked if children use TikTok, the head of the service answered in the negative. According to Chu, his young daughter lives in Singapore. According to local law, children under the age of 13 are prohibited from registering on social networks.
Uncertainty about a possible ban
Earlier, information appeared in the media that the US authorities are putting pressure on TikTok to sell the American part of the business.
This is not the first time the government has pushed a Chinese company to do so. In 2019, the administration of US President Donald Trump pressed TikTok to sell the company. Otherwise, the application could be banned in the country.
Those attempts not crowned success, but TikTok still partnered with Oracle to conduct an independent audit.
Now the service is under the threat of a new block. Two bills have been registered in the US Congress giving the federal government the right to ban the application in the United States. The White House approved the initiatives and urged lawmakers to “make a decision sooner.”
At the same time, the Chinese government condemned US actions. Hours before the congressional hearing, Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokeswoman Shu Jueting voiced Beijing’s opposition to the Joe Biden administration’s proposal.
“Forcing the sale of TikTok would seriously undermine the confidence of investors from around the world, including China, to invest in the United States,” she said.
Shu added that if the news turned out to be true, China would come out “strongly against it.”
Recall that in March 2023, a bill was submitted to the US House of Representatives, giving the president the right to ban TikTok in the country.
A few days later, a similar initiative came from a bipartisan group of US senators.
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