In a wildly dramatic and painful-to-watch session, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress in a hearing that will determine the future of the social media app.
Just as US user adoption hit 150 million, the CEO faced tough questions from out-of-touch congresspeople about safety, privacy, selling data, and security concerns. Here’s what happened:
“Mr. Chew, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security,” Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, said in her opening statement. “TikTok has repeatedly chosen a path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation.”
Privacy and security. Let’s remember there is no evidence that TikTok has shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, but policymakers fear that the Chinese government could compel the company to do so. Chew says legacy U.S. data in Virginia and Singapore servers are being deleted. “We expect that to be complete this year. When that is done, all protected U.S. data will be under the protection of U.S. law.”
Chew says the company has created “what amounts to a firewall that seals off protected U.S. user data from unauthorized foreign access.” “American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel.”
Chew made 4 commitments to U.S. lawmakers:
- Prioritizing safety for young users
- Firewall protection for U.S. user data
- The app will remain a place for free expression & ‘will not be manipulated by any government’
Surveillance concerns. When asked about surveillance, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)”Can you say with 100% percent certainty that neither ByteDance nor TikTok employees can target…Americans with…surveillance techniques?” Chew said, “I disagree with the characterization of surveillance.”
While Chew does not deny employees at TikTok’s parent company in China have access to Americans’ sensitive user data, so does every other social media platform. Chew says he believes that TikTok doesn’t collect any more data than any other social media platform.
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) asks TikTok CEO Shou Chew: “Does TikTok access the home WiFi network?”
After a five-minute rant from Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), Chew asked to respond to questions and comments but was told, “No. We’re going to move on.”
Save our children. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) showed a compilation of TikTok videos encouraging suicide and death and told Chew, “Your technology is literally leading to death.” After the video, Chew asked to say a word about the death but was promptly cut off mid-sentence in what seemed more like a show than an effort to extract any meaningful information.
Rep. Castor (R-FL) blamed the CEO for people’s algorithms causing them to commit suicide. She also reminded us that Facebook and Instagram sat in the same seats and told congress they knew of the issues and did nothing to prevent kids from self-harm.
Here’s what Twitter thought. An overwhelming majority of people watching and live Tweeting the hearing are noticing that congress isn’t letting Chew respond to questions and accusations.
Dig deeper. Watch it live. If you have the patience.
Why we care. A TikTok ban could have a significant impact on the future of the popular social media app, and therefore their advertising strategy. If TikTok is banned or faces severe restrictions, it could affect the app’s user base and potentially make it less attractive to advertisers.
Additionally, if the hearing reveals serious security or privacy concerns with the app, it could lead to a loss of trust among users and advertisers alike. On the other hand, if the hearing goes well and TikTok is allowed to continue operating with minimal restrictions, it could present a valuable opportunity for advertisers to continue reaching a large and engaged audience on the platform.