TikTok's CEO Questioned by US on Privacy and Data Security

TikTok's CEO Shou Chew had the opportunity to appear before the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday to speak on matters of TikTok's consumer privacy and data security practices. There is a growing concern among lawmakers and the Biden administration regarding national security issues.

TikTok's CEO Questioned by US on Privacy and Data Security

As TikTok's popularity skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, US government officials have increasingly scrutinized the app's ties to the Chinese government. The Biden administration recently threatened to ban TikTok from the US, joining a growing number of bans by government agencies worldwide. On March 15, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US gave TikTok an ultimatum regarding its connections to the Chinese government. Bills to ban over 150 million US users' access to TikTok have already been introduced in both chambers of Congress.

The US House committee's chair, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), began the hearing by stating, "Mr. Chew, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security." The hearing focused on recent allegations that TikTok, which is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, collects data on American users for the Chinese government.

Lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties pressed Chew with various questions, including the impact of the TikTok algorithm on young users, as well as the role of the federal government in regulating or possibly banning TikTok in the US.

During the hearing, which lasted over five hours, Chew defended TikTok against calls for it to be banned from the US and repeatedly stressed that TikTok operates independently from Chinese government control. Chew stated in his opening remarks that "TikTok itself is not available in mainland China, we're headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore, and we have 7,000 employees in the [US] today." Chew also highlighted TikTok's recently announced "Project Texas," which aims to safeguard US user data by transferring American user data to US soil.

Despite Chew's statements, lawmakers were not convinced of TikTok's data security practices. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) stated during the hearing, "I am not being reassured by anything you've said so far... frankly, your testimony has raised more questions for me than answers."

Currently, TikTok remains available to users worldwide, but the app has been banned from government devices by governments in Canada, the European Commission, Wisconsin, and North Carolina for security reasons.

The panel raised a wide range of issues, many of them not unique to TikTok. While some of the national security questions raised are somewhat specific to the company, many of the other concerns that the committee emphasized are part of a trend of increased regulatory activity against platforms that host user-generated content. These evolutions show, amongst other things, the need for a more comprehensive privacy framework to create certainty for US and international companies operating in the United States.

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