TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will fight for the survival of the hugely popular video-sharing app in the United States on Thursday, as he faces skeptical Washington lawmakers over the company’s alleged ties to the Chinese government.
The 40-year-old Singaporean will address the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and endure hours of serious grilling by both Republicans and Democrats who fear that Beijing could subvert the site for spying or to promote propaganda.
Tiktok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is under immense pressure across Western countries, with government officials in the United States, at the EU commission, as well as the UK and Canada forced to delete the app from their devices.
British broadcaster BBC on Tuesday advised its staff to remove TikTok from their phones.
TikTok’s gravest threat is from the United States, where the administration of President Joe Biden has set an ultimatum that the company either dump its Chinese ownership or face an outright ban.
A ban would be an unprecedented act on a media company by the US government, cutting off 150 million monthly users in the country from an application that has become a cultural powerhouse – especially for young people – and the nation’s most viewed source of entertainment after Netflix.
“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew will say, according to prepared remarks released ahead of the House committee hearing.
“TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, US user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honor such a request if one were ever made,” Chew will add in his opening statement on Thursday.
Despite his assurances, the cards in Washington seemed to be dealt against Chew, with several pieces of legislation, including one bill backed by the White House, already paving the way for a ban of the app.
“Americans deserve to know the extent to which their privacy is jeopardized and their data is manipulated by ByteDance-owned TikTok’s relationship with China,” Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said.
“What’s worse, we know Big Tech companies, like TikTok, use harmful algorithms to exploit children for profit and expose them to dangerous content online,” added the Republican.