TikTok CEO to set record straight with Congress today

  • TikTok CEO Shou Chew is expected to appear before Congress in the US later today to discuss concerns regarding how the platform handles data.
  • In preparation for his appearance, Chew has written a statement, touching on parent company ByteDance and alleged ties to the Chinese government.
  • He will also need to field questions about how data is captured, stored, and processed.

Later today, at 16:00 to be precise, TikTok CEO Shou Chew will be appearing before the US Congress’ House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The focus of the discussion will naturally be the wildly popular social media platform, and in particular how it handles the data of US citizens and the manner in which it relates to alleged ties to the Chinese government via its parent company ByteDance.

The US government has its eyes set on companies with foreign interests at the moment, having zeroed in on TikTok in particular, recently threatening a ban if it did not divest from its Chinese owners. Whether it can dictate such terms to the company remains to be seen, but Chew has already prepared and shared some statements (featured below) ahead of this afternoon’s hearing.

The CEO specifically made mention of some of the allegations made against the company, looking to set the record straight in the process.

“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country. However, for the reasons discussed above, you don’t simply have to take my word on that. Rather, our approach has been to work transparently and cooperatively with the U.S. government and Oracle to design robust solutions to address concerns about TikTok’s heritage,” he explained.

“Second, there are misconceptions about the type of data that TikTok collects. For instance, there have been a number of press stories alleging that TikTok “tracks” people. This is not accurate. As noted above, current versions of the app do not collect precise or approximate GPS information from U.S. users. These are just a couple examples of some common misconceptions. I look forward to addressing these inaccuracies and others during my testimony,” he added.

In the work with Oracle that Chew mentions, the company’s data localisation plan named Project Texas is seen as a way to alay fears when it comes to the processing and handling of data. That said, it looks like the US government is more concerned with TikTok’s parent company and its dealings with the Chinese government.

“To ensure that the data of all Americans is stored in America and hosted by an American headquartered company, we have contracted with Oracle, an industry leader in cloud-based services, to store TikTok’s U.S. user data. Currently, 100 percent of U.S. user traffic is being routed to Oracle and USDS-controlled infrastructure in the United States. USDS (United States Data Security) is running our recommendation system for U.S. users, which determines what appears in the For You feed, in the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure,” Chew pointed out.

“Moreover, Oracle has already begun inspecting TikTok’s source code and will have unprecedented access to the related algorithms and data models. No other social media company, or entertainment platform like TikTok, provides this level of access and transparency. As of January 18, 2023, TikTok’s access to systems containing new protected data are exclusively controlled by USDS,” he continued.

Either way it remains to be seen if Chew’s testimony will be enough to appease the US government. When Congress called CEOs of technology companies before it previously, it has yielded nothing, but one from a foreign-owned company might result in a different outcome. It will therefore make for interesting viewing.

If you want to tune into the meeting, you can do so via the video embedded below at 16:00 this afternoon.

[Image – Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash]


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