TikTok’s CEO got grilled by US Congress

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in front of Congress on Thursday

TikTok’s CEO got grilled by US Congress
TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

The backstory: TikTok has been trying to convince the US that it isn't secretly working with the Chinese government. But despite its efforts, the US government wanted TikTok's Chinese owners, ByteDance, to sell their shares in the company or else the popular social media giant would be banned in the US. Why, you ask? Well, the US is worried about China's government or military being able to access user data on the app, especially because of Chinese laws that require companies to provide access to user data.

More recently: TikTok's been busy lobbying and trying to come up with ways to compromise, but some politicians still think it’s just a way for China to spy on Americans and spread propaganda. So, the company recently came up with a solution whereby American user data would be held on entirely separate servers, and everything would be vetted by a neutral third party.

The development: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in front of Congress on Thursday to make the case for the app not to get banned. To start, he emphasized his Singaporean background and expressed that he was not beholden to the CCP. Chew was asked if TikTok is a Chinese company, and he responded that it’s global in nature, pointing out its headquarters in Singapore and Los Angeles. He also mentioned that the app wasn’t available in mainland China. Chew repeatedly assured the congressional panel that keeping US data separate through Project Texas would be the answer to their concerns rather than Chinese owners selling off their stakes.

A lot of the hearing also focused on child safety, as the app has been associated with harmful content being shared with young impressionable users. Chew referenced new limits the app had put in place to protect young users and that users under the age of 16 can’t go viral by design. He also said the company was actively working on quickly identifying and removing harmful content, like posts glorifying eating disorders.

Key comments:

You can read CEO Shou Zi Chew’s prepared testimony here.

"I think that there is a real risk that if this hearing doesn't go well … that could have a massive impact on the future of TikTok," said Chris Stokel-Walker, author of TikTok Boom.

“I don’t want to go in and question anybody’s intentions. That’s not my job,” said Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s CEO, in an interview last month.

"This is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese Government. And to me, it screams out with national security concerns," said Christopher Wray, FBI director, last month.

“Social media is designed to be addicting, and your platform is the most addictive of all,” said Congresswoman Kim Schrier to Chew. “And this endless, mindless scrolling takes teams away from human relationships.”

“I am concerned that what you’re proposing with Project Texas just doesn’t have the technical capability of providing us the assurances that we need,” said Congressman Jay Obernolte to Chew.