(CNN) —In his first appearance before the US Congress on Thursday, TikTok CEO Show Xiu answered questions from lawmakers who expressed deep skepticism about his company’s efforts to protect US user data and ease concerns about its relations with China.
The hearing, which lasted more than five hours, began with a lawmaker’s calls to ban the use in the United States and fought back. It’s a prime example of bipartisan pressure to kill the popular short-video app and the company’s uphill battle to improve relations with Washington.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opened Thursday’s hearing and told the show: “Your site should be banned.”
“I believe he will say anything today to avoid this decision,” he continued. “We’re not buying it. In fact, when you’re bragging about 150 million American users on TikTok, you’re emphasizing the urgency of Congress. That’s 150 million Americans.” [Partido Comunista Chino] Collect important information.”
Chew, who until recently has kept a low profile compared to other CEOs in the tech world, used his testimony to underscore TikTok’s independence from China and emphasize its ties to the United States. “TikTok is not available in mainland China, we are headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore, and today we have 7,000 employees in the US,” he said in his keynote speech.
“However, we have heard significant concerns about unwanted foreign access to US data and potential manipulation of the US TikTok ecosystem,” Chew said. “Our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize any of these concerns. We have addressed them with real action.”
Chew’s moment in the dock comes as some lawmakers, through its parent company Byte Dance, are renewing calls to ban the app in the U.S. due to national security concerns over its ties to China. TikTok confirmed to CNN last week that federal authorities are requiring the app’s Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the social media platform or risk a US ban on the app. Several countries, including the US, have already banned the app from government devices for security reasons.
TikTok does not work in China. But because the Chinese government has significant influence over companies under its jurisdiction, ByteDance, and presumably TikTok, could be forced to cooperate with a range of security measures, including the transfer of data from TikTok, the theory goes.
By the looks of it, Chev may have hoped to reassure Americans and tone down the heated rhetoric in Washington over the application, but the hours-long hearing proved just how difficult that task is.
“Sho came prepared to answer questions from Congress,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter told CNN in a statement after the hearing. “But unfortunately the day was dominated by political bombast that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already in place.”
Washington has already decided on TikTok
Most of Chew’s attempts to insist that his company was not an arm of the Chinese government seemed to fall on deaf ears. Numerous members of Congress interrupted the CEO’s testimony and said they did not believe him.
“To the American people watching us today, hear this: TikTok is a tool of the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see, and exploit future generations,” said Rep. McMorris said.
In an exchange with Congresswoman Anna Eshu, Chew discussed TikTok’s ongoing efforts to protect US user data, saying, “He doesn’t see any evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data; we’ve never been asked.” , we don’t provide them.”
“I find that very absurd,” Eshu replied.
“I have investigated…I have not seen any evidence that this happened,” replied Chew. “Moving your data to the U.S., having it stored on U.S. soil by a U.S. company, monitored by U.S. personnel. So the risk is the same as any government going to a U.S. company and asking for data.”
“I don’t think TikTok said or did anything to convince us,” Eshu said.
On TikTok’s content and its ties to China, Rep. No exchange summed up Thursday’s hearing better after Kate Cammack’s lengthy criticism.
“May I answer, President?” Chew asked McMorris when Cammock finished his speech.
McMorris considered Sue’s request for a moment.
“No. We’re going,” he said.
The TikTok CEO insists his practices are no different from those of American tech companies
As lawmakers stepped up their questions about TikTok’s data collection practices, Chew emphasized that the data TikTok collects is data that “many companies in our industry collect frequently.”
“We are committed to being very open with our users about what we collect,” Chew said. “I don’t think we collect more than most players in the industry.”
Independent researchers have supported Sevin’s claims. In 2020, the Washington Post collaborated with a privacy researcher to analyze TikTok and concluded that it did not appear to collect more data than a typical mainstream social network. The following year, Bellion Lin, a Taiwanese researcher at Toronto’s Citizens Laboratory, conducted another technical analysis that came to similar conclusions.
However, even if TikTok collects the same information as Facebook or Twitter, it still has a lot of data, including the videos you watch, the comments you write, the private messages you send, and if you agree to provide it. Access level, your exact geolocation and your contact lists.
(On Thursday, Chew said that current versions of TikTok do not collect accurate GPS information from US users.)
TikTok’s impact on minors is a key point
While national security is expected to be the main topic of the investigation, several lawmakers raised concerns about TikTok’s impact on minors.
The commission’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Frank Ballon, for example, said Thursday:
“Research has found that TikTok’s mechanisms recommend teens to videos that create and exacerbate feelings of distress, including videos that promote suicide, self-harm and eating disorders.”
Rep. Bob Latta, Republican of Ohio, accused TikTok of promoting a video called the “Blackout Challenge” on the feed of a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl who later died trying to follow the challenge in the video.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Republican of Florida, said there is a lack of proper content regulation that could expose minors to self-harming content.
“Their technology is literally leading to death,” Bilerakis told the TikTok CEO.
Citing examples of harmful content reaching minors, he said: “Sir, even after knowing all these dangers, it is unacceptable for you to say that TikTok is a big deal.”
TikTok, for its part, has rolled out several features in recent months to provide additional protections for younger users, including setting a new 60-minute default value for the daily time limit for under-18s. However, even that feature has been criticized by lawmakers as being too easy on teenagers.
The representative compares Chew to Zuckerberg
Representative. Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., criticized what he saw as Chevy’s evasive answers, comparing him to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has frustrated some members of Congress with his own testimony in the past.
“You are one of the few who joined this commission,” Cardenas told Chev. “He reminds me a lot of Mark Zuckerberg. When he came here, I said to my team, ‘He reminds me of Fred Astaire: a good dancer with words’. Today you do the same thing. A lot of your answers are a bit vague; they’re yes or no”.
Zuckerberg testified for hours before the same panel in 2018 in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Although both Chew and Zuckerberg run major social media platforms, Zuckerberg was already a household name when he took on lawmakers in 2018. Chew, TikTok in 2021. has largely been out of the spotlight since assuming the helm.
To prepare for his trial this Thursday, CNN has learned Chew has spent the past week in nearly daylight, multi-hour preparation sessions. TikTok staff worked on fine-tuning and polishing Chew’s presentation during these sessions. They played legislators with a wide variety of questions, prepared him for a relentless barrage of questions with practice questions and scenarios.
The central government is stepping up its talks
Outside the courtroom, federal officials stepped up their rhetoric about TikTok.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said TikTok had to be “killed one way or another”, but noted that “there are different ways to do it”. Appearing before the House Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken said he didn’t know if it was enough for TikTok to cut itself off from its Chinese parents.
A senior US diplomat said he believed the app posed a threat to US national security, but stopped short of outright banning it. “Obviously we, the administration and others are aware of the challenge and are taking steps to address it,” he said.
In a separate statement that did not specifically mention or name TikTok, the US Treasury Department, which heads the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), warned that it “will not authorize any transaction”. There are no unresolved national security concerns.”
“Broadly speaking, certain transactions may present data security risks, including access by a foreign individual or government to highly sensitive personal data of Americans, as well as intellectual property, source code, or other sensitive information.” The spokesperson said. “CFIUS will, on a case-by-case basis, ensure the protection of national security, including preventing the misuse of data for purposes of espionage, surveillance and other means that threaten national security.”
For more than two years, CFIUS and TikTok have been negotiating a possible deal that would address U.S. security concerns and allow the app to continue in the country.
But in his testimony, Chew sought to allay long-standing concerns about the app, calling fears of the Chinese government accessing TikTok user data “opinion.”
“I think a lot of the risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical,” Chew said. “I haven’t seen any evidence. I look forward to discussions where we can talk about the evidence and then address the concerns that are raised.”
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