The US Congress began this Thursday (23) an audience with the CEO of the TikTok application, Shou Zi Chew. The statement comes amid suspicions that the company has ties to the Chinese government and affects national security.
“TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path of more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Its platform should be banned,” said House Commerce and Energy Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers at the opening of the hearing.
The 40-year-old Singaporean appeared before the committee at 10 am (1100 GMT) to undergo hours of questioning by Republicans and Democrats, who fear Beijing will subvert the site for espionage or propaganda.
Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok is under enormous pressure in western countries. Government officials in the US, UK, Canada and the European Commission were ordered to remove the app from their phones. On Tuesday (21), the British broadcaster BBC also advised its staff to delete TikTok from their mobile phones.
The most serious threat comes from the United States, whose government has issued an ultimatum for TikTok to be removed from Chinese ownership. Otherwise, it will face a total ban in the country.
Prohibition would be unprecedented
The ban would be an unprecedented act against a media company in the United States and would deprive 150 million monthly users of an app that has become a cultural powerhouse, especially among young people. TikTok is the number one source of entertainment after Netflix.
“ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew told the lower house committee. “We believe that clear and transparent rules are needed that apply broadly to all technology companies: ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns,” he added.
The chairman of the committee, in turn, claimed that “The CCP [Partido Comunista Chinês] may collect sensitive information (from TikTok users in the US) and control what we see, hear and believe.”
At one point, Chew acknowledged that some Americans’ personal data was still subject to Chinese law, but insisted that would soon change.
Chew promotes a company plan, known as Project Texas, to address national security concerns, under which the handling of user data on US soil would be limited to a US-run division.
Congressmen even confronted the CEO with cases of young users who committed suicide or dangerous acts that led to fatal consequences. “Their technology is literally leading to death,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis, pointing to a family in attendance at the session whose son was killed in a train accident, which family members believe was related to TikTok.
Ahead of the hearing, Beijing declared that it “will firmly oppose” a forced sale, noting that any sale or spin-off of TikTok requires approval from Chinese authorities.
“Forcing the sale of TikTok … will seriously undermine the confidence of investors in many countries, including China, to invest in the United States,” warned Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shu Jueting.
Even with the consent of all parties, selling the app would be complicated, as separating the powerful algorithm of “TikTok and ByteDance would be like an operation of Siamese twins”, noted Wedbush analyst Dan Ives in an interview with AFP.
On Wednesday (22), young people, teachers and business people addressed Congress to express opposition to banning the app and highlighted the benefits of TikTok for their lives and livelihoods.
“Are there other platforms? I’m definitely on them, but none have the reach of TikTok,” the soap businesswoman @countrylather2020 told her 70,000 followers in a video recorded shortly after arriving in Washington.
With information from AFP