Tik Tok CEO Shou Zi Chew on Thursday warned U.S. congressmen that imposing a veto on that platform in the country would be detrimental to the economy and free speech.
“It’s an app where people can be creative. There are about five million American businesses, mostly small, that use it to find customers and drive their growth,” he told the House Energy and Commerce committee, where he recalled that in the U.S. they hover around 150 million users.
Chew had met bilaterally with some legislators this year to emphasize that the company offers privacy and security guarantees, but this was his first official appearance on Capitol Hill.
The administrative leadership of Congress has already vetoed the downloading and use of Tik Tok on all government mobile devices, and in January and March several bills were introduced to ban its application on all mobile devices in the country and to limit the threat posed by the technology from “enemies” such as China or Iran.
Chew recalled that he is Singaporean and a resident of Singapore, that Tik Tok is run by an executive team in the United States and Singapore, that its headquarters are in Los Angeles and Singapore, and that it is not available on the Chinese mainland.
He said he was aware, however, that the fact that its parent company, ByteDance, has Chinese founders has raised suspicions about whether its platform could be used or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party. But “ByteDance is not under the ownership or control of the Chinese government. It is a private company. I have no evidence that the Chinese Executive has access to the data. They have never asked us for it,” he said.
In his attempt to dispel doubts, he also wanted to make it clear that his company is subject to U.S. law. At the heart of its security and privacy work in the U.S. is the so-called Texas Project, which provides for such safeguards.
To ensure that Americans’ data is stored in the U.S. and hosted by a U.S.-based company, they have contracted with Oracle, a leader in cloud-based services, and only the staff of a new unit of the firm, Tik Tok US Data Security, can access it, he explained.
“This goes further, by the way, than any other company in our industry has done. We are the only one, the only one, that offers this level of transparency,” he stressed in a session surrounded by much media and legislative buzz.
A session in which the congressmen’s opposition was clear from the beginning. “We have no confidence that Tik Tok will ever embrace American values. The platform should be vetoed. Many of its employees still answer directly to Beijing. We don’t buy their arguments,” noted Energy and Commerce Committee Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican.
British and Scottish Parliaments veto Tik Tok for security reasons
While that appearance was taking place, on this side of the Atlantic, the British and Scottish Parliaments announced that they will ban the Tik Tok application on all corporate devices for security reasons.
A Westminster spokesman confirmed that following the decision taken a few days ago by Downing Street – the seat of the British government – to ban this social network from government mobiles, “the committees of the Houses of Commons (lower) and Lords (upper) have decided that Tik Tok will be blocked from parliamentary devices and from the wider Parliamentary network”. “Cybersecurity is a top priority for Parliament, although we do not comment on specific details of our physical security controls or on cybersecurity, policy or incidents,” the official source said.
The Scottish Government has also banned the app from its cell phones and other corporate devices after discussions with the central executive.
“Devices managed by the Scottish Government are configured in line with best practice from the National Cyber Security Centre, which helps us manage any risks associated with the use of third-party apps,” explained Scottish deputy chief minister John Swinney.
The politician said his decision to veto the use of Tik Tok follows talks with the UK government “about the potential tracking and privacy risks of certain social networking apps.”
“There is currently limited use of Tik Tok within the Government and a limited need for employees to use the app on work devices. This ban will be implemented immediately,” he said. Swinney added that “(the veto) does not extend to personal devices used by staff or citizens.”
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