TikTok CEO goes on lobbying blitz as lawmakers consider banning popular app
TikTok CEO goes on lobbying blitz as lawmakers consider banning popular appSamantha-Jo Roth
March 17, 04:51 PM March 17, 04:51 PM
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has been embarking on a lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill, meeting with lawmakers ahead of a high-stakes hearing next week where some are expected to push for a ban on the social media platform.
Chew is expected to testify next Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he will discuss the social media app’s data privacy and security practices. The CEO has been reaching out to members for meetings and has met with everyone on the panel except for Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the top committee’s top Democrat, according to Punchbowl News.
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Chew is attempting to convey to lawmakers that U.S. users’ data is safe on the platform and that the company isn’t under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, according to Forbes.
The app’s ties to the Chinese government continue to raise concerns from U.S. government officials who say TikTok could weaponize its collection of user data. FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that the app could be used to spread misinformation.
“This is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese government, and it, to me, it screams out with national security concerns,” Wray said.
“Americans deserve to know the extent to which their privacy is jeopardized and their data is manipulated by ByeDance-owned TikTok’s relationship with China,” the committee said in a statement Thursday.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), the chairwoman of Energy and Commerce, wants Chew to address questions next week about the Chinese-owned app’s initiatives to protect children from exploitation and inappropriate content, saying on Thursday that lawmakers “need to know what actions the company is taking to keep our kids safe from online and offline harms.”
In December, McMorris Rodgers and other Republicans wrote to TikTok, saying, “Many children are exposed to non-stop offerings of inappropriate content that TikTok’s algorithm force-feeds to them.” The group also raised concerns that the popular social media app livestreamed events that allowed adult TikTok users to offer money in an effort to “persuade children to perform sexually suggestive acts.”
The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok from the United States unless its Chinese owners agree to sell their stakes in the company. Earlier in the year, the White House mandated all federal agencies to remove TikTok from government-issued devices due to national security concerns.
Earlier this month, TikTok said it is developing a tool that will allow parents to prevent their children from viewing content that has specific words or hashtags. The short-form video app also has announced new features to limit the amount of time spent on the platform. Users under 18 years old will automatically have a time limit of an hour per day and will be required to enter a password to continue using the app.
The company has been negotiating for the last two years with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a group that includes the Treasury, Justice, Defense, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments, on a deal with data security requirements. U.S. officials continue to raise concerns that the Chinese government could pressure the company or its parent company, ByteDance, into handing over the personal data of U.S. users in an effort to benefit Chinese intelligence efforts. TikTok said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on data security efforts and rejects spying allegations. The talks are continuing, but so far, there’s been no resolution.
A growing number of lawmakers appear to be tired of waiting on the White House to take action on TikTok. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced a bipartisan bill last week that would grant the Biden administration new powers to regulate the video-sharing platforms and other foreign-owned applications. The bill was endorsed by the White House, which called it “a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the safety and security of Americans.”
The Senate legislation comes after the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to advance a TikTok-focused bill a couple of weeks ago that would enable President Joe Biden to ban it. The text of the bill specifically names TikTok and parent company ByteDance and requires Biden to impose penalties on the companies if the administration determines they knowingly transferred U.S. user data to “any foreign person” working for or under the influence of the Chinese government.
In mid-February, Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Marco Rubio introduced legislation to ban social media platforms like TikTok if they are owned by adversarial foreign regimes.
“There are two national security reasons. One is that China actually has a law that any private company that’s requested by the Chinese Communist government to give up their data has to do so,” King said during an appearance on MSNBC on Friday. “So, in effect, it makes any private company an agent of the Chinese Communist Party, and TikTok has enormous amounts of data: What you’re doing with your phone, what you’re looking at, what you’re emphasizing, where you are. So, that’s a problem.”
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Additionally, Rubio and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced legislation on Friday that would deny federal funds to any person or entity if it has an agreement, partnership, or advertisement with TikTok.
“Make no mistake — TikTok is an insidious platform weaponized by the Chinese Communist Party to snoop on Americans and negatively influence our children. This bill rightfully ensures that American taxpayers aren’t forced to foot the bill for ads that bolster the CCP’s toxic platform. I’ll always fight to protect taxpayer dollars and our national security,” Ernst said in a statement.