WASHINGTON (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): TikTok is not beholden to the Chinese government and will not share information about American users with it, the social media app’s chief executive is expected to promise the United States Congress at a crucial hearing on Thursday (March 23).
Chew Shou Zi will make the case to lawmakers that banning the app will hurt American small businesses and damage the country’s economy, as well as impinge on the freedom of speech of its more than 150 million US users, according to his prepared testimony released on Tuesday night ahead of the hearing in Washington.
“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” said Chew, a Singaporean, who will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.
ByteDance is the Chinese company that owns TikTok.
“Our approach has been to work transparently and cooperatively with the US government... to design robust solutions to address concerns about TikTok’s heritage,” added Chew.
TikTok is facing fierce opposition from Republican and Democrat lawmakers concerned about data privacy and national security, particularly whether parent company ByteDance would be compelled to hand over user data to the Chinese government.
Calls for the app to be banned have mounted, with Congress advancing legislation that would give President Joe Biden the power to restrict or ban the app in America.
The Biden administration is pushing for ByteDance to sell the app or be banned in America, according to US media reports.
But TikTok has become a cultural behemoth in the US, with more than half of America’s population using the app on a monthly basis.
Chew said the average US user today is an adult, who is well past the typical college age of 18 to 22.
Americans comprise about 10 per cent of the app’s global users, but form about 25 per cent of the total views around the world, he added.
Chew vowed to firewall protect US user data from unauthorised foreign access and grant access to third-party independent monitors, pledging that TikTok would not be manipulated by any government.
“TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, US user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honour such a request if one were ever made,” said Chew.
He also outlined Project Texas – TikTok’s US$1.5 billion (S$2 billion) package of measures to better safeguard US user data and allay US national security concerns.
These measures, he argued, were better than a national ban or forced sale of TikTok.
“I am well aware that the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party,” said Chew.
But, he added, a ban was inappropriate, and a forced sale would not solve security concerns because a change in ownership would not impose new restrictions on data flows or access.
Earlier on Tuesday, Chew appealed directly to TikTok users on the app and told them that the app faced a “pivotal moment” in the US.
“Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok. Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you,” he said in a minute-long video on the platform.
He also asked American users to leave comments on “what you want your elected representatives to know about what you love about TikTok”.
TikTok has stepped up a public relations blitz in Washington in recent days, taking out ads in newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, in addition to ads in metro and train stations around the nation’s capital.
“Privacy control. Your priority. Our commitment,” promised a pair of ads in Washington’s Union Station.