The CEO of TikTok will appear before a US Congressional committee on Thursday, where he will face criticism over data and user safety when he explains why the wildly popular video-sharing app shouldn’t be banned.
Shou Zi Chew’s remarks come at a crucial time for the company, which already has 150 million US users but is under increasing pressure from US officials. TikTok and its parent company ByteDance are embroiled in a broader geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington over trade and technology.
Chu, a 40-year-old native Singaporean, rarely appears publicly to challenge the barrage of accusations that TikTok is facing. On Wednesday, the company sent dozens of popular TikTokers to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers to preserve the platform. It also runs ads across Washington promising to protect user data and privacy and create a safe outlet for its young users.
Chu plans to inform the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee that TikTok prioritizes the safety of its young users and denies allegations that the app poses a national security risk, according to his prepared statement released before the hearing.
TikTok has been dogged by accusations that its Chinese ownership means user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government or be used to promote narratives favoring the country’s communist leaders.
“We understand the popularity of TikTok; we understand that,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “But the president’s job is once again to ensure that America’s national security is also protected.” “
Meanwhile, TikTok has sought to distance itself from its Chinese origins, explaining that parent company ByteDance is 60 percent owned by global institutional investors such as the Carlyle Group. ByteDance was founded in Beijing in 2012 by Chinese entrepreneurs.
“Let me be clear: ByteDance is not a representative of China or any other country,” Chu said.
The US ban on the app is unprecedented, and it’s unclear how the government will 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 worthless.
The US could also block access to TikTok’s infrastructure and data, confiscate its domain name, or force internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to filter TikTok traffic, said Ahmed Ghapour, a criminal law and computer security expert who teaches at Boston University’s law school.
But he said that tech-savvy users can still bypass restrictions by using virtual private networks to make it appear as if users are in another country where they are not blocked.
To circumvent the ban, TikTok is trying to sell employees a $1.5 billion plan called Project Texas that routes all user data in the US to local servers owned and managed by software giant Oracle. As part of the project, US officials will provide data access in the US through a separate organization called TikTok US. Managed. Data Security, which employs 1,500 people, is operated independently of ByteDance and monitored by external monitors.
Since October, all new user data has been stored domestically in the US. This month, the company began deleting all historical US user data from non-Oracle servers in a process expected to be completed later this year, Chu said.
A number of Western countries, including Denmark, Canada, and New Zealand, along with the European Union, have banned TikTok from devices issued to government officials, citing cybersecurity concerns.
In the US, the federal government, Congress, the military, and more than half of the states have banned the app from official devices.
David Kennedy, a former government intelligence officer who runs cybersecurity firm TrustedSec, agreed to limit access to TikTok on government-issued cell phones because they may contain sensitive military information or other classified material. However, a national ban may be too extreme, he said. He also wondered where this was going.
“We have Tesla in China, Microsoft in China; we have Apple in China. Are they going to start banning us now?” Kennedy said. “That could escalate very quickly.”