WASHINGTON: TikTok’s chief executive officer (CEO) will tell lawmakers the Chinese-owned short video app with more than 150 million American users has never shared US user data with the Chinese government amid growing US national security concerns.
“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,” CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify today, according to written testimony posted on Tuesday by the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
He added that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is not owned or controlled by any government or state entity. “Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew will say to the committee.
TikTok’s critics fear that its US user data could be passed on to China’s government by the app, prompting growing calls to ban the app among US lawmakers.
Last week, TikTok said the Biden administration demanded that its Chinese owners divest their stake in the app or it could face a US ban.
“Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives. But we do have an alternative,” Chew’s testimony said.
TikTok’s testimony before Congress today comes in the face of growing calls for the short video app to be banned across America and serves as one of the Chinese company’s most-detailed rebuttals to the accusations against it.
TikTok has said it has spent more than US$1.5bil (RM6.7bil) on what it calls rigorous data security efforts under the name “Project Texas” and has tried to convince lawmakers and the Biden administration to support the plan.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, had unanimously recommended in 2020 that ByteDance divest TikTok.
Under pressure from then-President Trump, ByteDance unsuccessfully sought to finalise a deal with Walmart and Oracle to shift TikTok’s US assets into a new entity, and Trump then lost court battles seeking to ban TikTok.
The video app has spent more than two years in talks with CFIUS seeking to reach an agreement on protecting US user data.
TikTok has formed a special-purpose subsidiary, TikTok US Data Security that currently has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and has contracted with Oracle to store TikTok’s US user data.
“Oracle has already begun inspecting TikTok’s sourcecode and will have unprecedented access to the related algorithms and data models,” Chew’s testimony said.
Chew said when the process is complete, “all protected US data will be under the protection of US law and under the control of the US-led security team. Under this structure, there is no way for the Chinese government to access it or compel access to it”.
The company said it had started this month to delete US user-protected data in data centres in Virginia and Singapore after it started routing new US data to the Oracle Cloud last year. Chew’s testimony said it expects this process to be completed later this year.
Chew’s testimony said 60% of ByteDance is owned by global institutional investors, including Blackrock, General Atlantic and Sequoia, about 20% is owned by the company’s founders, and about 20% is owned by its employees, “including thousands of Americans”.
TikTok said on Monday that more than 150 million people in the United States use TikTok on a monthly basis, and that in 2020, 100 million Americans used the app.
Chew’s testimony said the average user today is an adult well past college age. — Reuters