Tech & Science

TikTok CEO testifies at U.S. Congressional committee

Washington –

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday harshly questioned TikTok’s CEO over data security and harmful content, and at a tense committee hearing, the hugely popular video-sharing app prioritized user safety and was banned. I replied skeptically to his assurances that I shouldn’t.

Shou Zi Chew’s rare public appearance comes at a crucial time for the company, which has 150 million American users, but comes under increasing pressure from US authorities. TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance are embroiled in the broader geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington over trade and technology.

In a bipartisan effort to curb the power of the major social media platform, Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticized TikTok’s content moderation practices, how the company protects American data from Beijing, and its espionage activities. pressured Chew on many topics, ranging from journalist.

Republican Commissioner Kathy McMorris Rogers said, “Mr Chu, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security. It is,” he said.

Chew, 40, from Singapore, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that TikTok prioritizes the safety of its young users and denied any national security risks. He reiterated the company’s plan to protect US user data by storing it on servers controlled and owned by software giant Oracle.

“Let me make this clear: ByteDance is not an agent for China or any other country,” Chew said.

TikTok claims that Chinese ownership means user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, or that it could be used to further a narrative favorable to China’s Communist Party leaders. have been plagued by

In 2019, The Guardian reported that TikTok was telling moderators to censor videos that mention Tiananmen Square and images that are unfavorable to the Chinese government.The platform has since changed its moderation practices. said.

ByteDance admitted in December that it fired four employees last summer who had access to the data of two journalists and their associates while trying to source leaked reports about the company. I was.

Meanwhile, TikTok has sought to distance itself from its Chinese origins, saying ByteDance is 60% owned by global institutional investors such as the Carlyle Group.

“Ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns,” Chu says.

China has also said it opposes US attempts to force ByteDance to sell the app.

In one of the most dramatic moments, Republican Rep. Cat Camack shoots a gun captioned TikTok, including a House committee holding a hearing, along with the exact date before it was officially announced. played the video.

“You expect us to believe that we can maintain the data security, privacy, and security of the 150 million Americans who can’t even protect the people in this room.

TikTok spokesperson Ben Rathe said on Thursday that the company had removed the violent video targeting the committee and banned the account that posted it.

Chu also noted that US social media companies have failed to address the very concerns that TikTok has been criticized for.

“American social companies don’t have a great track record when it comes to data privacy and user security,” he said. “Look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, just to name a few.”

Just as the Energy and Commerce Commission questioned Mr. Chu, Secretary of State Anthony Brinken was questioned about the threat TikTok poses during another commission hearing on Thursday. Asked by Congressman Ken Buck whether the platform poses a security threat to the United States, Brinken said:

“Shouldn’t threats to US security be banned?” Buck replied.

“It should end somehow. But there are different ways to do it,” Brinken replied.

Committee members also showed users a number of TikTok videos encouraging self-harm and suicide. Many questioned why his Douyin, the Chinese version of the platform, does not feature the same controversial and potentially dangerous content as the American product.

Chew replied that it depends on the laws of the country in which the app is operating. He said the company has about 40,000 moderators who track harmful content and algorithms that flag content.

Asset management firm Wedbush said the hearing was a “disaster” for TikTok, making it more likely that the social media platform would be banned if it was not separated from its Chinese parent company. Moody’s Investors Service analyst Emir El Nems said the ban would benefit TikTok’s rivals YouTube, Instagram and Snap, “which is likely to increase the overall revenue share of ad wallets.” Told.

To avoid the ban, TikTok is trying to pitch stakeholders in Project Texas, a $1.5 billion plan to route all US user data to Oracle. In this project, access to US data will be controlled by US employees through a separate organization called TikTok US Data Security. This organization operates independently of ByteDance and is monitored by external observers.

As of October, all new US user data was stored in the US. The company began removing all historical US user data from its non-Oracle servers this month. The process is expected to be completed this year, Chew said.

Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw has said that regardless of what the company does to assure lawmakers that it protects U.S. user data, the Chinese government has a lot of leverage over its parent company, and the National Security Act. He said that he could ask for the data to be handed over through

Congress, the White House, the U.S. military, and more than half of U.S. states have already banned the use of apps on official devices.

But it may be difficult to wipe out all data tracking associated with the platform.In a report released this month, cybersecurity firm Feroot found that so-called tracking pixels from ByteDance that collect user information were found in apps. was found on websites in 30 US states, including sites where it was banned.

Other countries such as Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand have already banned TikTok from government-issued devices, along with the European Union.

A complete ban on TikTok in the US could lead to political and public backlash.

The company sent dozens of popular TikTokers to the Capitol Wednesday to urge lawmakers to keep the platform alive.It also supported 12 civil rights and free speech organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and PEN America has signed a letter against a mass ban on TikTok, claiming it will set a “dangerous precedent for restricting speech.”

David Kennedy, a former government intelligence officer who runs cybersecurity firm TrustedSec, said he agrees with restricting TikTok access on government-issued phones, but said a nationwide ban might be too drastic.

“China has Tesla, China has Microsoft, China has Apple. Are they going to start banning us now?” Kennedy said. “It can escalate very quickly.”


Associated Press reporters Kelvin Chan of London and Barbara Ochutey of San Francisco contributed to this article.

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