WASHINGTON (AP) — TikTok’s chief executive will make a high-profile appearance Thursday before a committee of the US Congress. The app shouldn’t be banned.
Shou Zi Chew’s testimony comes at a crucial time for the company, which has acquired 150 million US users but is under increasing pressure from US officials. TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have found themselves embroiled in a broader geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington over trade and technology.
Chew, a 40-year-old Singaporean, is making a rare public appearance to counter the barrage of allegations TikTok has been facing. On Wednesday, the company sent dozens of popular TikTokers to the Capitol lobby legislators to preserve the platform. It has also been running ads across Washington touting promises to protect user data and privacy and create a safe platform for its young users.
Chew plans to tell the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce that TikTok prioritizes the safety of its young users and denies accusations that the app is a risk to national securitybased on his prepared comments published prior to the hearing.
TikTok has been dogged by claims that its Chinese ownership means user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government or could be used to promote narratives favorable to the country’s communist leaders.
“We understand the popularity of Tiktok, we understand it,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “But the job of the president is to make sure again that the national security of the American people is also protected. ”
For its part, TikTok has been trying to distance itself from its Chinese origins, saying that its parent company, ByteDance, is 60% owned by global institutional investors like the Carlyle Group. ByteDance was founded by Chinese businessmen in Beijing in 2012.
“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent for China or any other country,” Chew said.
An app ban in the US would be unprecedented, and it’s unclear how the government would enforce it.
Experts say officials could try to force Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores, preventing new users from downloading it and preventing existing users from updating it, ultimately rendering it useless.
The United States could also block access to TikTok’s infrastructure and data, seize its domain names, or force Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to filter TikTok’s data traffic, said Ahmed Ghappour, an expert on criminal law and computer security who teaches at Boston University School of Law. .
But a tech-savvy user could still circumvent the restrictions by using a virtual private network to make it appear as though the user is in another country where they aren’t blocked, he said.
To avoid a ban, TikTok has been trying to sell officials in a $1.5 billion plan called Project Texas, which routes all US user data to home servers owned and maintained by software giant Oracle. Under the bill, access to US data is managed by US employees through a separate entity called TikTok US Data Security, which employs 1,500 people, runs independently of ByteDance and would be monitored by outside observers.
Starting in October, all new US user data was stored within the country. The company began deleting all historical US user data from non-Oracle servers this month, in a process expected to be completed by the end of this year, Chew said.
Several Western countries, including Denmark, Canada, and New Zealand, along with the European Union, they have already banned TikTok from the devices issued to government employees, citing cybersecurity concerns.
In the US, the federal government, Congress, the military, and more than half of the states have banned the app on official devices.
David Kennedy, a former government intelligence official who runs the cybersecurity company TrustedSec, agrees with restricting access to TikTok on government-issued phones because they could contain sensitive military or other confidential material. However, a nationwide ban might be too extreme, he said. He also wondered where he might lead.
“We have Tesla in China, we have Microsoft in China, we have Apple in China. Are they going to start banning us now?” Kennedy said. “It could scale very quickly.”
Chan reported from London.