TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew reacts throughout a session for him to testify earlier than a House Energy and Commerce Committee listening to entitled “TikTok: How Congress can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms,” as lawmakers scrutinize the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
“Welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress,” boomed Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., talking to the TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, a pair hours right into a marathon listening to in regards to the potential menace to U.S. customers from the massively in style short-form video app.
“We may not always agree on how to get there, but we care about our national security, we care about our economy and we sure as heck care about our children,” Carter stated.
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Chew discovered little reprieve through the questioning from both aspect of the aisle on Thursday. Lawmakers grilled him on the app’s potential to hurt children by way of its addictive options and doubtlessly harmful posts, in addition to whether or not information from U.S. customers may find yourself within the palms of the Chinese authorities by way of its China-based proprietor, ByteDance.
After greater than 5 hours of questioning, it is clear that lawmakers on the committee usually are not happy with TikTok’s present possession construction, even when not all of them are calling for a full ban. But Chew’s testimony didn’t quell many considerations that lawmakers had about its ties to China or the adequacy of its risk-mitigation plan, Project Texas. In some instances, it might even present fodder for individuals who consider the danger from TikTok is unacceptable.
“I’ve not been reassured by anything you’ve said so far and I think quite frankly your testimony has raised more questions for me than answers,” Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., stated at one level within the listening to.
It’s not clear how Thursday’s listening to will translate into motion. But a number of members appeared targeted on passing a complete digital privateness invoice, just like the one the panel permitted final Congress however did not get to the ground for a full chamber vote. That form of laws would assist resolve information privateness considerations that exist throughout all tech corporations, together with U.S. companies like Meta, Google, Twitter and Snap.
Congress has been mulling such a invoice for years with no outcomes. Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., famous this was the thirty second listening to Congress has held on privateness and Big Tech.
A ban or pressured sale of the app, which some members assume is the one option to clear up the rapid dangers, is one other matter. The Committee on Foreign Investment within the U.S. (CFIUS) is reviewing ByteDance’s acquisition of TikTok’s predecessor app, Musical.ly. It may advocate that the president pressure divestment if members cannot agree on an appropriate different to mitigate nationwide safety dangers.
Or, the federal government may discover different methods to attempt to ban the app. For instance, the bipartisan RESTRICT Act launched within the Senate would give the Commerce secretary the flexibility to evaluate know-how from international adversary international locations and advocate the president ban the know-how if the dangers cannot be appropriately mitigated.
In one significantly dramatic second on Thursday, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., performed a video she discovered on TikTok displaying what seemed to be an animated gun constantly reloading with the caption “Me asf at the, House Energy and Commerce Committee on 3/23/23.” TikTok eliminated the video sooner or later through the listening to.
TikTok performed down the significance of Thursday’s listening to in an announcement.
“Shou came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway through Project Texas or productively address industry-wide issues of youth safety,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter stated. “Also not mentioned today by members of the Committee: the livelihoods of the 5 million businesses on TikTok or the First Amendment implications of banning a platform loved by 150 million Americans.”
Clarity on China connections
Chew started his opening remarks by sharing particulars of his background and the international locations to which he is been related. Chew stated that he is lived in Singapore, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Like him, his mother and father have been born in Singapore and his spouse was born in Virginia.
Notably, China wasn’t on the checklist.
But through the listening to, lawmakers drilled down into TikTok’s ties to China by way of its father or mother firm.
While TikTok not too long ago discovered just a few allies on Capitol Hill, lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee didn’t show the same stage of sympathy. On Wednesday, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., likened the concentrate on TikTok to a “red scare” over China, however lots of his Democratic colleagues on Thursday appeared deeply involved about safety dangers stemming from TikTok’s Chinese possession.
Throughout the listening to, the lawmakers interrogated Chew in regards to the capacity of China-based ByteDance workers to entry U.S. information, its failure to take away some harmful or dangerous posts and whether or not the corporate has interacted or aligned itself with the Chinese Communist Party.
Chew denied that TikTok shares information with the Chinese Communist Party. He stated the corporate would not have a coverage to ask particular person workers about their occasion affiliations in China, however identified that ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo shouldn’t be a member of the occasion.
A key query for members of the committee gave the impression to be whether or not TikTok may uphold American values whereas being a subsidiary of a Chinese firm. Lawmakers and intelligence officers worry that Chinese authorities officers may entry U.S. consumer information from ByteDance by way of a Chinese regulation that enables officers to acquire firm info for purported nationwide safety causes.
“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values — values for freedom, human rights, and innovation,” stated Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R.-Wash., who helps a TikTok ban, in ready remarks.
“TikTok needs to be an American company with American values and end its ties to the Chinese Communist Party,” Rep. Darren Soto, R-Fla., later echoed.
Chew admitted that China-based workers can nonetheless entry some U.S. information, however that new information will cease flowing as soon as the agency finishes deleting it from its Singapore and Virginia-based servers as a part of its Project Texas mitigation plan.
But a number of members stated they assume the undertaking continues to be insufficient to guard American information.
“I don’t find what you suggested with Project Texas and this firewall that’s being suggested to whoever will be acceptable to me,” rating member Frank Pallone, D-N.J., stated. “I still believe that the Beijing communist government will still control and have the ability to influence what you do.”
It did not assist that The Wall Street Journal reported that China stated it might oppose a pressured sale of TikTok, saying that it might contain an export of know-how.
“Despite your assertions to the contrary, China certainly thinks it is in control of TikTok and its software,” stated Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, pointing to the information article.
Burgess and others additionally requested Chew about his preparation and whether or not ByteDance workers have been concerned in getting him prepared for the listening to. Chew stated TikTok’s workforce in D.C. helped him prep.
Later, Chew instructed Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., that TikTok shares authorized counsel with ByteDance. Griffith stated below that association, “there is no firewall, legally,” since these legal professionals may share info with one another.
When Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., requested if Beijing has persecuted the Uyghur minority group within the nation, Chew sought to redirect the dialogue again to TikTok.
“While it’s deeply concerning to hear about all accounts of human rights abuse, my role here is to explain what our platform does,” Chew stated.
Later, when Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, requested if TikTok helps genocide, Chew once more sought to convey the dialog again to app. Asked a second time, Chew answered that no, it doesn’t.
Toward the tip of the listening to, Chew expressed that his testimony was making an attempt to do one thing nearly not possible. Referencing a report that members introduced up from the University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab, Chew stated, “Citizen Lab is saying that they cannot prove a negative, which is what I have been trying to do for the last four hours.”
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