Key takeaways: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies to US Congress | Business and Economy News

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew concluded first public hearing before the US Congress, where he tried to dispel concerns about the Chinese-owned app’s relationship with the government in Beijing and accused the app of its inability to block “harmful” content. “.

The more than five-hour hearing took place on Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

It highlights the growing bipartisan support for take action against TikTokwith both Democrats and Republicans on the committee expressing skepticism about the company’s autonomy from the Chinese government.

For his part, Chew sought to describe the app, which has 150 million monthly users in the US, as “a place where people can be creative and curious.” He also confirmed that the company is taking actions that will exceed industry standards for data protection and transparency.

Here are the key takeaways from the hearing:

Chinese influence

Lawmakers have repeatedly asked Chew about China’s alleged influence over TikTok, an issue that both Republican committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democrat Frank Pallone have blamed. of national security concerns.

Pallone calls Chinese company ByteDance, which owns TikTok, a “Beijing-based parent company.”

Chew has repeatedly said that ByteDance is “not owned or controlled by the Chinese government” and that he sees “no evidence” that the Chinese government has accessed or requested access to user data. USA.

He added that TikTok “does not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government”.

Some lawmakers, however, took hold of Chew’s claim that — because the company relies on “global interoperability” — Chinese engineers may still have access to some of its data. USA.

Chew denied allegations that TikTok posed a national security threat. “I think a lot of the risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks,” he said.

Concerns about privacy

Chewing find a way assuage the concerns of legislators on the security of US user data, outlines an initiative that would ensure “US data is stored on US soil by a US company, supervised by US employees”.

Chew explained that the $1.5 billion “Project Texas” plan will be based on contracts with Texas-based tech firm Oracle, using a “firewall that prevents protected user data protected from unauthorized foreign access”.

The project is up and running but still not finished, according to Chew, who said “old US data” is still being removed from the old servers in the US and Singapore.

The statements have prompted little in the way of amnesty from lawmakers.

“Rename your project. Texas is not the right name,” said Republican August Pfluger, representing Texas’ 11th congressional district. “We stand for freedom and transparency, and we don’t want your project.”

Smoking gun?

Lawmakers also turned to broader issues on social media, questioning TikTok’s ability to censor misinformation, harmful messages and age-inappropriate content. Some lawmakers have used their time to show TikTok videos that encourage users to self-harm or commit suicide.

Chew replied that TikTok uses 40,000 moderators to monitor harmful content, as well as an algorithm to flag controversial material. He added that the company will use “third-party validators” to review its algorithms and provide access to researchers to “research and monitor the content ecosystem of the company.” we”.

“I don’t think I can sit here and say we’re perfect for this,” said Chew. “We work very hard.”

However, in one of the most memorable moments of the hearing, Representative Kat Cammack, a Republican, broadcast a video on TikTok showing a gun firing with a threatening message about the session. Committee hearings are ongoing. She noted that the post has been on the app since February 10.

“You want us to believe you have the ability to maintain the privacy and data security of 150 million Americans when you can’t even protect the people in this room?” she asked.

TikTok removed the video after the comment.

Reject the Uighurs, censor Tiananmen Square

Chew also denied that TikTok moderators restrict posts related to issues sensitive to the Chinese government, including China’s crackdown. Uighur Muslim minority and the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, in which the army opened fire on peaceful protesters.

“We don’t remove that type of content. TikTok is a place for free speech,” said Chew. “If you use our app, you can continue to show content on that and many more topics.”

A 2019 report from the UK newspaper The Guardian cited leaked documents showing that TikTok instructed censors to censor videos mentioning Tiananmen Square, as well as other issues. other issues in favor of the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, a TikTok executive told the UK Parliament in 2020 that the platform had previously censored content critical of China, particularly regarding the Uighurs, but This activity is no longer available.

Committee Chairman Rodgers told Chew: “I will remind you that making false or misleading statements before Congress is a federal crime.

Stretching all the way

One thing was clear in Thursday’s hearing: Chew — who served as ByteDance’s chief financial officer before becoming TikTok’s CEO in 2021 — won little hearts on the bipartisan committee.

“I have to give it to you,” said the Pfluger Representative. “You have really done something that has not happened in the last three to four years, except maybe Vladimir Putin. You have united the Republicans and the Democrats.”

Representative Buddy Carter said: “Welcome to the most bipartisan committee in Congress.”

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