The TikTok boss will testify before Congress in March

TikTok’s chief executive agreed to appear before a congressional committee in March as Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives step up scrutiny of the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.

Shou Zi Chew will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23, a committee spokesman said, marking the first appearance of a TikTok executive before a congressional panel.

Harvard-educated Mr. Chu, who was once an intern at Meta Platforms Inc

Facebook has agreed to testify voluntarily and will be the only witness at the hearing, the spokesman said.

The hearing will give lawmakers — especially Republicans who recently won a slim majority in the House of Representatives — an opportunity to explore a number of growing concerns about the application.

These include the alleged sharing of US users’ data with China, as well as risks that the app could be used for propaganda or manipulation of US users.

“TikTok knowingly allowed the Chinese Communist Party to access the data of American users,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R., Wash.), who chairs the committee, said in a written statement. “Americans deserve to know how these actions affect their privacy and data security, and what actions TikTok is taking to protect our children from online and offline harm.”

Along with other Republican lawmakers, Ms. Rogers has demanded more information from TikTok about its impact on young people amid concerns about harmful content and potential sexual exploitation of minors on the platform. Mr. Chu said recently that TikTok should invest more in protecting young people.

TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., has said it will never allow the Chinese government to interfere. To address US security concerns, the company says it has developed a $1.5 billion plan to ensure the website is independent, including creating a system to monitor the secret algorithms that determine the content sent to users .

“There is no truth to Congressman McMorris Rogers’ claim that TikTok provided US user data to the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese Communist Party has neither direct nor indirect control over ByteDance or TikTok,” the company said on Monday.

TikTok said it would use the March hearing to “set the record straight about TikTok, ByteDance and the commitments we are making to address US national security concerns.”

TikTok is at a crossroads as US concerns about its Chinese ownership grow. Some officials have explored the idea of ​​a forced sale of a US company. The WSJ explains the challenges of making this happen. Illustration: Preston Jesse

The security measures have been the subject of negotiations with the US national security committee, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, for more than two years.

The protracted negotiations drew criticism from congressional Republicans, who accused the Biden administration of stalling. They plan to use the Energy and Commerce hearing, as well as other committees — including the newly created Special Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party — to focus on the need to resolve the TikTok issue.

TikTok is trying to allay concerns about its huge presence in the US, where it has more than 100 million users, and Mr Chu will have a chance to address Americans directly on the issue at the hearing.

A Singaporean with a background in Chinese and American culture, he has been on something of a public relations offensive in recent weeks. He made a high-profile visit to European Commission officials this month to discuss TikTok’s plans to comply with sweeping new European Union rules.

It parallels the company’s stepped-up efforts to convince US officials that any potential threats posed by TikTok can be addressed through proposed security measures amid growing calls to ban the app outright, as former President Donald Trump unsuccessfully attempted to do.

Lawmakers such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Reps. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) and Raja Krishnamurthy (D., Ill.), as well as Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Missouri). ), are among those who have introduced legislation to introduce a national ban on TikTok.

A problem that has arisen with potential bans is finding a way around what are known as the Berman Amendments, which provide First Amendment-style protections for informational content from hostile nations.

In response to the potential for bans, TikTok said it hopes “legislators will focus their energy on efforts to comprehensively address these issues, rather than pretend that banning one service will solve any of the issues they are concerned about, or will make Americans safer.”

Write to John D. McKinnon at [email protected]

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