TikTok spent millions lobbying Congress to dodge US app ban, claims report

The Chinese firm ByteDance, and its parent corporation have spent over $13 million lobbying members of Congress.
Baba Tamim
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TikTok and Shou Zi Chew

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Since 2019, TikTok, a social media platform owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, and its parent corporation have spent over $13 million lobbying members of Congress.

The ownership of TikTok by a Chinese business is still a focus of legislative campaigns, and some even call prohibit TikTok from operating in the United States, despite this investment.

"Our team in Washington is — and always has been — focused on educating lawmakers and stakeholders about our company and our service," Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, told CNBC news on Friday. 

"We will continue to work with lawmakers, stakeholders, and our peer companies on solutions that address the industrywide issues of privacy and safety," she added.

TikTok has launched Project Texas in an effort to allay government worries around the possibility of information collection by the Chinese government. 

The project intends to put consumer data from the United States into a safe hub run by the software behemoth Oracle. Legislators are still not confident that Project Texas will be enough to allay these worries, though.

Republicans Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Congressman. Ken Buck of Colorado recently presented legislation that would outlaw TikTok downloads nationally.

Promises of Project Texas 

The head of TikTok's American public policy office, Michael Beckerman, called Buck's staff and refuted claims that TikTok is gathering user data.

According to ByteDance's quarterly lobbying reports, all of its internal lobbyists, including Beckerman and Freddy Barnes, who once worked for Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, now represent TikTok.

Moreover, TikTok has employed its own army of outside lobbyists, including former California Rep. Jeff Denham and former Biden assistant Ankit Desai, claims the CNBC report

ByteDance, which spent $5.3 million on government lobbying in 2022, a new high for the corporation, has accounted for the majority of the spending on lobbying related to the social app.

Since 2020, TikTok has spent little more than $900,000 on outside lobbying firms.

In addition to lobbying, ByteDance gave over $400,000 in "honorary costs" to charitable organizations partnered with members of Congress last year.

Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, recently testified before U.S. Congress, saying that ByteDance personnel headquartered in China might have access to some U.S. data from the app.

He promised them that once Project Texas is finished, staff won't have access to such information anymore.

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