The United States Congress began a hearing on Thursday with the CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, amid fears in Washington that the company has ties to the Chinese government and affect national security.
“TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path of more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Their platform should be banned,” Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said at the start of the hearing.
Shou Zi Chewa 40-year-old Singaporean, appeared before the committee to undergo hours of questioning by Republicans and Democrats, who fear Beijing would subvert the app for spying or propaganda purposes.
Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok is under enormous pressure in Western countries: Government officials in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, as well as the European Commission, they were forced to remove the app from their devices.
Shou Zi Chew, emphatic in Congress. Photo Reuters
The British broadcaster BBC advised its staff on Tuesday to remove TikTok from their phones. And the administrative direction of Congress has already vetoed the download and use of TikTok from government mobile devices and in January and March bills were presented that seek to prohibit its application in all of the country and limit the threat posed by technology from “enemies” like China or Iran.
The most serious threat comes from the United States, whose government gave an ultimatum for TikTok to stop being chinese property or face a total ban in the country.
A ban would be an unprecedented move against a media company by Washington, as it would deprive 150 million monthly users in the country of an app that has become a cultural powerhouse, especially for young people, and the main source of entertainment after Netflix.
“ByteDance is not an agent for China or any other country”Chew told the House committee.
Republican Buddy Carter questioned TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew. AFP photo
“We believe that what is needed are clear and transparent rules that apply broadly to all technology companies: ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns,” he added.
“The CCP can collect sensitive information (from US TikTok users) and control what we ultimately see, hear and believe,” Cathy McMorris Rodgers said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
In a particularly awkward moment, Chew recognized that some personal data of Americans they were still subject to Chinese law, but he insisted that soon that would change.
Congressmen also confronted Chew with dire examples of young users promoting suicide or dangerous exercise that has proven fatal.
“Your technology is literally leading to death”said Congressman Gus Bilirakis as he pointed to a family in the audience whose son was killed in a rail tragedy that relatives say was related to TikTok.
Chew warned that imposing a ban on that platform in the country it would harm the economy and freedom of expression.
“It’s an app where people can be creative. There are close to five million American businesses, mostly small, that use it to find customers and drive growth,” he told the House of Energy and Commerce committee. Representatives, where he recalled that in the US there are around 150 million users.
The TikTok app in London. AFP photo
Chew had met with some lawmakers this year to emphasize his company’s privacy and security guarantees, but this was his first official appearance inside the Capitol.
Before the hearing, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said it would “strongly oppose” a forced sale, stressing that any sale or spin-off of TikTok would require the approval of the Chinese authorities.
“Forcing the sale of TikTok (…) will seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the United States,” added Shu Jueting, a spokesman for the aforementioned portfolio.
A sale of the application, even with the agreement of all parties, would be very complicated, since separating the powerful algorithm of “TikTok and ByteDance It would be like a conjoined twin operation.”Wedbush analyst Dan Ives told AFP.
On Wednesday, a dozen teenagers, teachers and business owners addressed Congress to voice their opposition to a ban on the app and highlighted the benefits of TikTok to their lives and livelihoods.
“Are there other platforms? Absolutely, I’m in them, but none have the reach of TikTok”soap entrepreneur @countrylather2020 told her 70,000 followers in a video recorded just after arriving in Washington.
Chew promotes a company plan, known as Project Texas, to satisfy national security concerns, under which the handling of user data on US soil would be limited to a US-run division.
Source: AFP, EFE and AP