New York(CNN) In his first look earlier than Congress on Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Chew was grilled by lawmakers who expressed deep skepticism about his firm’s makes an attempt to guard US person information and ease considerations about its ties to China.
It was a uncommon likelihood for the general public to listen to from the Chew, who presents only a few interviews. But his firm’s app is among the many hottest in America, with greater than 150 million energetic customers.
Listed below are the most important takeaways from Thursday’s listening to.
Washington has already made up its thoughts about TikTok
The listening to, which lasted for greater than 5 hours, kicked off with calls from a lawmaker to ban the app in the US and remained combative all through. It provided a vivid show of the bipartisan push to crack down on the favored short-form video app and the corporate’s uphill battle to enhance relations with Washington.
Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the Home Vitality and Commerce Committee, opened Thursday’s listening to by telling Shou: “Your platform must be banned.”
Chew used his testimony to emphasize TikTok’s independence from China and play up its US ties. “TikTok itself just isn’t out there in mainland China, we’re headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore, and we have now 7,000 workers within the U.S. right now,” he mentioned in his opening remarks.
“Nonetheless, we have now heard essential considerations concerning the potential for undesirable overseas entry to US information and potential manipulation of the TikTok US ecosystem,” Chew mentioned. “Our strategy has by no means been to dismiss or trivialize any of those considerations. We’ve addressed them with actual motion.”
TikTok would not function in China. However for the reason that Chinese language authorities enjoys vital leverage over companies underneath its jurisdiction, the idea goes that ByteDance, and thus not directly, TikTok, might be pressured to cooperate with a broad vary of safety actions, together with presumably the switch of TikTok information.
A lot of Chew’s makes an attempt to emphasize that his firm just isn’t an arm of the Chinese language authorities appeared to fall on deaf ears. Quite a few members of Congress interrupted the chief govt’s testimony to say they merely do not consider him.
“To the American individuals watching right now, hear this: TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese language Communist Get together to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations,” mentioned Rep. McMorris Rodgers.
In an change with California Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo, Chew talked up TikTok’s ongoing efforts to guard US person information and mentioned he has “seen no proof that the Chinese language authorities has entry to that information; they’ve by no means requested us, we have now not supplied it.”
“I discover that really preposterous,” Eshoo fired again.
“I’ve seemed in — and I’ve seen no proof of this taking place,” Chew responded. “Our dedication is to maneuver their information into the US, to be saved on American soil by an American firm, overseen by American personnel. So the chance could be much like any authorities going to an American firm, asking for information.”
“I do not consider that TikTok — that you’ve got mentioned or accomplished something to persuade us,” Eshoo mentioned.
TikTok CEO stresses its practices are not any completely different than US tech giants
As lawmakers doubled down on their questions on TikTok’s information assortment practices, Chew additionally emphasised that the information TikTok collects is information “that is steadily collected by many different corporations in our business.”
“We’re dedicated to be very clear with our customers about what we accumulate,” Chew mentioned. “I do not consider what we accumulate is greater than most gamers within the business.”
Impartial researchers have backed Chew’s assertions. In 2020, The Washington Publish labored with a privateness researcher to look underneath the hood at TikTok, concluding that the app doesn’t seem to gather any extra information than your typical mainstream social community. The next 12 months, Pellaeon Lin, a Taiwan-based researcher on the College of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, carried out one other technical evaluation that reached related conclusions.
Nonetheless, even when TikTok collects about the identical quantity of knowledge as Fb or Twitter, that is nonetheless numerous information, together with details about the movies you watch, feedback you write, personal messages you ship, and — for those who conform to grant this stage of entry — your actual geolocation and get in touch with lists. (On Thursday, Chew mentioned that present variations of TikTok don’t accumulate exact GPS info from US customers.)
TikTok’s affect on youngsters a key level of focus
Whereas nationwide safety was anticipated to be the first focus of the listening to, a number of lawmakers additionally highlighted considerations about TikTok’s affect on youngsters.
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, rating member of the committee, for instance, mentioned Thursday: “Analysis has discovered that TikTok’s algorithms suggest movies to teenagers that create and exacerbate emotions of emotional misery, together with movies selling suicide, self-harm and consuming issues.”
Rep. Bob Latta, a Republican from Ohio, accused TikTok of selling a video on the so-called “blackout problem” or choking problem to the feed of a 10-year-old lady from Pennsylvania, who later died after making an attempt to imitate the problem within the video.
Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida additionally mentioned there’s a lack of ample content material moderation, which leaves room for teenagers to be uncovered to content material that promotes self hurt.
“Your know-how is actually resulting in dying,” Bilirakis mentioned to Chew.
Citing examples of dangerous content material served to youngsters, he mentioned, “it’s unacceptable, sir, that even after understanding all these risks, you continue to declare that TikTok is one thing grand to behold.”
TikTok, for its components, has launched quite a few options in latest months to offer extra safeguards for youthful customers, together with setting a brand new 60-minute default for every day time restrict for these underneath the age of 18. Even that characteristic, nevertheless, was criticized by lawmakers as being too straightforward for teenagers to bypass.
Chew criticized for avoiding questions. TikTok mentioned Congress wasn’t keen on his solutions
Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a Democrat from California, blasted what he noticed as Chew’s oblique responses and in contrast him to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who in his personal testimonies prior to now has additionally annoyed some members of Congress.
“You have got been one of many few individuals to unite this committee,” Cárdenas instructed Chew. “You remind me numerous Mark Zuckerberg. When he got here right here, I mentioned to my workers, ‘He jogs my memory of Fred Astaire — good dancer with phrases.’ And you’re doing the identical right now. Quite a lot of your solutions are a bit nebulous; they don’t seem to be sure or no.”
Zuckerberg testified earlier than the identical home committee for hours again in 2018 within the wake of the Cambridge Analytica information scandal. Whereas each Chew and Zuckerberg lead main social media platforms, Zuckerberg was already a family title when he confronted lawmakers again in 2018. Chew, in the meantime, has largely stayed out of the highlight since he took the helm of TikTok again in 2021.
To arrange for his look Thursday, CNN discovered Chew has spent the final week in near-dialy, multi-hour prep classes. TikTok personnel have labored to sharpen and polish Chew’s presentation throughout these classes. They’ve performed the roles of lawmakers with numerous questioning types, peppering Chew with follow queries and situations to prepared him for hours of relentless interrogation.
However TikTok mentioned Congress wasn’t keen on listening to Chew’s solutions.
“Shou got here ready to reply questions from Congress,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter instructed CNN in an announcement after the listening to wrapped. “However, sadly, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that did not acknowledge the actual options already underway.”
Maybe no change summed up Thursday’s listening to like a second following Rep. Kat Cammack’s prolonged critique of TikTok’s content material moderation and hyperlinks to China.
“Can I reply, Chair?” Chew requested McMorris Rodgers after Cammack’s time was up.
McMorris Rodgers thought of Chew for a short second.
“No. We’ll transfer on,” she mentioned.
Federal authorities ratchets up its rhetoric
Outdoors the listening to room, federal officers appeared to ramp up their rhetoric about TikTok.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned TikTok must be “ended a technique or one other,” however famous “there are other ways of doing that.” Talking at a separate Home International Affairs Committee listening to, Blinken mentioned he didn’t know if it could be ample for TikTok to be divested from its Chinese language dad or mum firm.
The highest US diplomat mentioned he believed the app is a risk to US nationwide safety, however wouldn’t outright say that it must be banned. “Clearly, we, the administration and others are seized with the problem that it poses and are taking motion to handle it,” he mentioned.
In a separate assertion on Thursday that didn’t tackle or title TikTok particularly, the US Treasury Division — the company that chairs the Committee on International Investments in the US (CFIUS) — warned that it “is not going to clear any transaction until it determines there are not any unresolved nationwide safety considerations.”
“Broadly talking, some transactions can current information safety dangers — together with offering a overseas particular person or authorities with entry to troves of People’ delicate private information in addition to entry to mental property, supply code, or different doubtlessly delicate info,” a Division spokesperson mentioned. “CFIUS, on a case-by-case foundation, will make sure the safety of nationwide safety, together with to stop the misuse of knowledge by way of espionage, monitoring, and different signifies that threaten nationwide safety.”
For greater than two years, CFIUS and TikTok have been negotiating on a attainable deal which may tackle US safety considerations and permit the app to proceed working in the US.
However in his testimony, Chew tried to ease the longstanding considerations concerning the app and referred to as the fears of Chinese language authorities entry to TikTok’s person information “hypothetical.”
“I feel numerous dangers which are identified are hypothetical and theoretical dangers,” Chew mentioned. “I’ve not seen any proof. I’m eagerly awaiting discussions the place we are able to discuss proof after which we are able to tackle the considerations which are being raised.”