The CEO of TikTok faced a grilling on Thursday from a US congressional committee in a rare public appearance where he made his own case for why the hugely popular video-sharing app shouldn’t be banned.
Shou Zi Chew’s testimony came at a crucial time for the company, which has acquired 150 million American users but is under increasing pressure from US officials.
TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have been swept up in a wider geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington over trade and technology.
“Mr.Chew, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security,” Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, said in her opening statement.
“TikTok has repeatedly chosen a path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation.”
Chew, a 40-year-old Singapore native, told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that TikTok prioritises the safety of its young users and denied allegations that the app is a national security risk.
He reiterated the company’s plan to protect US user data by storing all such information on servers maintained and owned by the server giant Oracle.
“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew said.
On Wednesday, the company sent dozens of popular TikTokers to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers to preserve the platform.It has also been putting up ads all over Washington that tout promises of securing users’ data and privacy and creating a safe platform for its young users.
TikTok has been dogged by claims that its Chinese ownership means user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government or that it could be used to promote narratives favourable to the country’s Communist leaders.
In a rare, bipartisan effort to reign in the power and influence of a major social media platform, Republican and Democratic lawmakers pressed Chew on a host of topics, ranging from TikTok’s content moderation practices, how the company plans to secure American data from Beijing, and that it admits spying on journalists.