TikTok CEO testifies before Congress to forestall US TikTok ban

TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified before Congress on Thursday for several hours as the US government weighs whether to ban the app in the US.
John Loeffler
TikTok CEO Shou Chew testifying before Congress on March 23, 2023
TikTok CEO Shou Chew testifying before Congress on March 23, 2023


TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified before Congress on Thursday, March 23, 2023, to try and address concerns about the company's data practices and its ties to China as the US government weighs a ban on the TikTok app in the United States.

Chew told lawmakers that TikTok does not censor content at the behest of the Chinese government and that it stores US user data on servers located on American soil. Lawmakers from both parties expressed skepticism about Chew's testimony.

“You have been one of the few people to unite this committee,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Cali.) told Chew during the hearing. “You remind me a lot of Mark Zuckerberg. When he came here, I said to my staff, ‘He reminds me of Fred Astaire — good dancer with words.’ And you are doing the same today. A lot of your answers are a bit nebulous; they’re not yes or no.” This line of questioning was when they weren't coming into the hearing with their minds seemingly made up.

"Your platform should be banned," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in her opening statement.

The hearing was held amid growing concerns about the security of TikTok's data. In 2020, the U.S. government ordered TikTok to sell its U.S. operations to an American company, but a deal never reached fruition. The Trump administration previously banned TikTok from government devices, citing the company's purported ties to China.

TikTok's parent company ByteDance is incorporated in the Cayman Islands and headquartered in Beijing, and so the arguments against TikTok is that China's government and intelligence services could exert considerable leverage over ByteDance to get access to TikTok user data. There are roughly about 150 million active TikTok users in the United States, according to the company.

“We are committed to be very transparent with our users about what we collect,” Chew said. “I don’t believe what we collect is more than most players in the industry.”

Chew's testimony before Congress is the latest step in TikTok's efforts to address concerns about its data practices. The company has also hired a new chief security officer and has launched a new initiative to educate users about data privacy.

What is really at issue with TikTok and the US government

Chinese tech companies have been having a long history of conflict with the US government, which routinely accuses them of being conduits at best for Chinese intelligence services if not outright working as an arm of the Chinese government. Back in 2019, the Trump administration blacklisted imports of Huawei electronics into the US and pushed allied countries in Europe to do the same.

It remains to be seen whether TikTok's efforts will be enough to satisfy lawmakers and regulators. However, the company's testimony before Congress is a sign that it is taking the issue of data privacy seriously.

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