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 testimony 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 parent company ByteDance have become embroiled in the broader geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington over trade and technology.
In a rare bipartisan effort to seize power on a major social media platform, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have criticized TikTok’s content moderation practices, how the company protects American data from Beijing, and its spying efforts. Pressured Chu on many topics, right up to the act. about journalists.
“Mr. Chu, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security,” said Kathy, the chairman of the Republican Commission. McMorris-Rogers said in her opening statement: “TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path to more control, more oversight and more manipulation.”
Chew, 40, from Singapore, told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that TikTok prioritizes the safety of its young users and denies it. claims that it is a national security riskHe reiterated the company’s plan to protect US user data by storing all such information 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.
On Wednesday, the company sent dozens of popular TikTokers to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to keep the platform alive. It also has ads all over Washington that promise to protect user data and privacy and create a safe platform for young users.
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 other imagery unfavorable to the Chinese government. said to have changed.
In December, ByteDance accused four employees who had access to the data of the two journalists and others related to the two journalists last year when it was trying to determine the source of a leaked report about the company. I admitted that I was laid off in the summer.
Meanwhile, TikTok has tried to distance itself from its Chinese origins by saying that parent company ByteDance is 60% owned by global institutional investors such as the Carlyle Group. ByteDance was founded in Beijing in 2012 by a Chinese entrepreneur. In response to a Wall Street Journal report, China said it opposes any US attempts Force ByteDance to sell your app.
Chu opposed the idea that TikTok ownership itself was a problem.
“Trust is about the actions we take. Ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns.”
In one of the most dramatic moments, Republican Rep. Cat Cammack announced a House committee holding a hearing with a TikTok video showing a firing gun and the exact date before it was officially announced. Displayed captions containing.
“Expect us to believe we can maintain the data security, privacy and security of the 150 million Americans who can’t even protect the people in this room,” Kamak told Chu. .
Lawmakers have attempted to portray TikTok as a Chinese-influenced company interested in profiting at the expense of the mental and physical health of Americans. A committee member showed users a number of his TikTok videos encouraging self-harm and suicide. Many questioned why his Douyin, the Chinese version of the platform, does not have the same controversial and potentially dangerous content as its American counterpart.
Is the clock ticking on TikTok in America? While it’s already banned on many government devices, some federal officials, politicians, and law enforcement agencies have decided to make the popular app available to all. I want people to be banned. Do they have any reason to be concerned?
Chew replied that it depends on the laws of the country in which the app is operating. The company has about 40,000 moderators who track harmful content and algorithms that flag material, he said.
“I can’t sit here and say I’m perfect to do this,” Chu said. “We work hard.”
The US ban on the app is unprecedented and it is unclear how the government will enforce it.
Experts say authorities may force Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores. The US could also block access to TikTok’s infrastructure and data, seize domain names, and force internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to filter his TikTok’s data traffic. said Ahmed Ghappour, a criminal law and computer security expert who teaches at Boston University School of Law. .
But tech-savvy users can get around the restrictions by using virtual private networks to make it appear that the user is in another unblocked country.
To get around the ban, TikTok has been trying to sell its affiliates A $1.5 billion plan called Project TexasThis routes all US user data to domestic servers owned and controlled by Oracle. In this project, access to US data is controlled by US employees through a separate organization called TikTok US Data Security, which employs 1,500 people, operates independently of ByteDance, and is monitored by external observers. increase.
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 later this year, Chew said.
In general, researchers say TikTok behaves like other social media companies when it comes to data collection. In an analysis published in 2021, Citizen Lab, a nonprofit organization at the University of Toronto, found that TikTok and Facebook collect similar amounts of user data.
To thwart such tracking, Congress, the White House, the U.S. military, and more than half of U.S. states have 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 ByteDance’s so-called tracking pixels, which collect user information, were used by apps. was found on websites in 30 states, including banned sites.
other countries Countries including Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, along with the European Union, have already banned TikTok from devices issued to government employees.
Former government intelligence officer David Kennedy, who runs cybersecurity firm TrustedSec, has agreed to limit TikTok access on government-issued phones because it may contain sensitive information. But a nationwide ban might be too extreme, he said.
“China has Tesla, China has Microsoft, China has Apple. Are they going to start banning us now?” Kennedy said. “It could escalate very quickly.