TikTok CEO to Congress: Ban would harm US economy

Washington, Mar 23 (EFE).- The chief executive officer of video hosting service TikTok said here Thursday that a ban on that social platform in the United States would hurt American businesses, damage the economy and curtail freedom of expression.

“Our app is a place where people can be creative and curious and where close to 5 million American businesses, mostly small businesses, go to find new customers and to fuel their growth,” CEO Shou Zi Chew said in his opening statement to the US House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, recalling that TikTok has around 150 million American users.

Chew had met earlier this year with some lawmakers to allay concerns about the app’s data privacy and security practices, but Thursday marked his first appearance before a US congressional committee.

The US government late last year banned TikTok on all government mobile devices and in bills introduced early this year aims to prohibit the app on all devices nationwide.

Chew recalled that he is a native of Singapore and lives in his homeland and noted that TikTok is headed by an executive team based in the US and Singapore, its headquarters are located in Los Angeles and that Asian island country and the app is not available in mainland China.

He acknowledged there is suspicion among US officials that because TikTok parent ByteDance has Chinese founders the app could become a tool of China’s ruling Communist Party, but he sought during his testimony to ease those concerns.

“TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, was founded by Chinese entrepreneurs but has evolved into a global enterprise since its founding,” Chew said. “ByteDance is a privately-held global company (that is) roughly 60 percent owned by global institutional investors.”

Addressing concerns about the possibility of US user data being shared with the Chinese government, he noted that TikTok is a US company subject to the laws of the US and “has never shared, or received a request to share, US user data with the Chinese government.”

“Nor would TikTok honor such a request if one were ever made.”

His response to a question from Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican from Florida, about whether ByteDance has spied on American citizens was more ambiguous: “I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it.”

US President Joe Biden’s administration has threatened a nationwide ban on TikTok unless its Chinese owners divest their stakes in the app, while China said Thursday that such a move would “seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the United States.”

In his attempt to allay lawmakers’ concerns, Chew stressed that TikTok is subject to US laws. “I don’t think ownership is the issue here.”

Chew also touted an “unprecedented” TikTok data security initiative known as Project Texas that is “dedicated to safeguarding both US user data and US national security interests.”

To guarantee that Americans’ user data is stored in the US and hosted by a US-based company, TikTok has contracted Oracle, a leader in cloud-based services, he explained.

He added that 100 percent of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle and said that only personnel from a newly created special-purpose subsidiary, TikTok US Data Security, will have access to US user data.

Chew also added that TikTok has begun the process of “deleting historical protected US user data stored in non-Oracle servers,” a process that is expected to be finalized later this year.

“When that 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,” the CEO said. “Under this structure, there is no way for the Chinese government to access it or compel access to it.”

During his opening statement, Chew laid out a four-point commitment to officials and TikTok users: to keep safety (especially for teenagers) a top priority, firewall protected US user data from unauthorized foreign access, remain a platform for free expression that is not manipulated by any government and give access to third-party monitors to ensure accountability for its commitments.

Chew’s remarks, however appeared to do little to ease lawmakers’ concerns.

The chair of the Energy and Commerce committee, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington state, was among those left unconvinced by his testimony.

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