On Thursday, US congressmen interrogated Shou Chew, the 40-year-old CEO of TikTok, for about five hours and with rather insistent questions. During the hearing, various issues were addressed, first of all the concern of Congress that the social network, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, could be or become a tool of the Chinese government – whose relations with the United States have become more tense in recent months – to collect data on the American population, possibly to be used in espionage operations. As CNN wrote, it was also “a rare opportunity for the public to hear Chew speak”, who is usually very reluctant to give interviews.
In recent days, and after about two years of discussions on how to make TikTok’s data processing more acceptable for the United States, President Joe Biden had moved on to more rigid positions, setting as a condition not to completely ban the social network in the country that the company was sold. A few hours before Thursday’s hearing, the Chinese Commerce Minister had made it known that he will firmly oppose this solution. This put Chew in a lot of trouble, whose main intention was to present TikTok as a private company and independent of the Chinese government.
For three years, TikTok has been one of the most downloaded and popular social networks in the world, with one billion active users globally, many of which in Europe and the United States. It is the only truly widespread platform in the West that belongs to a Chinese company and given that China is seen by the United States (and to a lesser extent by the European Union) as a hostile, authoritarian and unreliable country, there is are those who fear that it could be used by the Chinese government to spy on users, promote their political interests and meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. In recent weeks Canada, the United States and some European institutions had announced the obligation for civil servants to remove TikTok from their work smartphones.
– Read also: How dangerous is TikTok?
Thursday’s hearing in Washington DC began with a very strong speech by Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who argued that TikTok “must be banned”. In her opening speech, Chew insisted that “TikTok itself is not available in China, we have our headquarters in Los Angeles and Singapore, and we currently have 7,000 employees in the United States.” In response to a question, she specified that “ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government”, but “it is a private company”. Some members of Congress told Chew they didn’t believe these claims.
Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL): “Has ByteDance spied on American citizens?”
TikTok CEO Shou Chew: “I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it.” https://t.co/nDBYu0zswn pic.twitter.com/wowEKe5o9E
— Bloomberg (@business) March 23, 2023
Regarding concerns about the use of personal data of users, privacy and security, Chew said it has taken steps in this direction and intends to continue to do so. He added that he has no “proof that the Chinese government has access to this data: they have never asked us for it and we have never provided it”. Chew also insisted that the way TikTok collects data about its users and their behavior is no different from that of many other technology companies, even American ones.
Chew has been criticized by some lawmakers for giving evasive and “nebulous” answers, and one congressman likened his hearing to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 Cambirdge Analytica hearing.
– Read also: How it had gone with Mark Zuckerberg in Congress
The hearing then touched on other topics, content moderation and the harmful impact that TikTok would have on children and young people who use it, according to some members of Congress and part of public opinion. There has been talk in particular of videos that would lead young people to have suicidal thoughts or develop eating disorders and self-harm behaviors. Citing recent news stories, Republican Gus Bilirakis told Chew, “Your technology is literally leading to death.” After the hearing, a TikTok spokesperson told CNN that Congress really wasn’t interested in hearing Chew’s responses and that the day “was dominated by the political rostrum.”
-Safety for teenagers
-Firewall protection for US user data
-No foreign government influence
TikTok CEO Shou Chew tells Congress that the company will commit to protecting American users https://t.co/Iju3G44wHa pic.twitter.com/KrJ7TU39FJ
— Bloomberg (@business) March 23, 2023
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