TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will “unequivocally” deny claims the Chinese-owned short video app has, or ever would, share the data of US users with the Chinese government, when he goes before US lawmakers on Thursday.
“TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, US user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honour such a request if one were ever made,” Chew will testify, according to written testimony posted on Tuesday by the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
He added that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is not owned or controlled by any government or state entity. “Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew will say to the committee.
TikTok’s critics fear that its US user data could be passed on to China’s government by the app and prompted growing calls to ban the app by US lawmakers.
Last week, TikTok said the Biden administration demanded that its Chinese owners divest their stake in the app or it could face a US ban.
“Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives. But we do have an alternative,” Chew’s testimony said.
TikTok has said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on what it calls rigorous data security efforts under the name “Project Texas”.
Chew said when the process is complete “all protected US data will be under the protection of US law and under the control of the US-led security team. Under this structure, there is no way for the Chinese government to access it or compel access to it.”
TikTok’s 150 Million US Users
The company said it had started this month to delete US user protected data in data centres in Virginia and Singapore after it started routing new US data to the Oracle Cloud last year. Chew’s testimony said it expects this process to be completed later this year.
Chew’s testimony says 60% of ByteDance is owned by global institutional investors including Blackrock, General Atlantic, and Sequoia, about 20% by the company’s founders, and about 20% owned by its employees “including thousands of Americans”.
TikTok said on Monday that more than 150 million people in the United States use TikTok on a monthly basis after saying in 2020 that 100 million Americans used the app. Chew’s testimony says the average user today is an adult well past college age.
“While users in the United States represent 10% of our global community, their voice accounts for 25% of the total views around the world,” Chew’s testimony says.
Chew says current versions of the app do not collect precise or approximate GPS information from US users.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara