TikTok CEO to testify before Congress in March

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is expected to appear before Congress in March to face questions from lawmakers over US user safety and security on the popular video app, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal

The Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed the hearing in a press release Monday announcing that the TikTok chief would testify on March 23rd. TikTok chief operating officer Vanessa Pappas has testified before a congressional committee as recently as last September, but this upcoming hearing will be the first time a chief executive of the company has been hauled to Capitol Hill to face questioning.

“ByteDance-owned TikTok has knowingly allowed the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to access American user data.”

“Big Tech has increasingly become a destructive force in American society. The Energy and Commerce Committee has been at the forefront of asking Big Tech CEOs — from Facebook to Twitter to Google — to answer for their companies’ actions,” Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said in a statement Monday. “These efforts will continue with TikTok. ByteDance-owned TikTok has knowingly allowed the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to access American user data.”

Reached for comment, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told The Verge Monday that the company welcomes “the opportunity to set the record straight about TikTok, ByteDance, and the commitments we are making to address concerns about U.S. national security before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.” Oberwetter continued, “We hope that by sharing details of our comprehensive plans with the full Committee, Congress can take a more deliberative approach to the issues at hand.”

The announcement comes weeks after Republicans officially took over as the majority party in the House. They’ve wasted little time ramping up scrutiny of the Chinese-owned app that touts over 80 million monthly active users in the US, citing its potential risk to national security. 

TikTok has been stuck in yearslong negotiations with the Committee on Foreign Investment to keep its app running in the US. But in December, The Wall Street Journal reported that talks between the app and government officials had stalled, delaying any possible deal. 

Responding to Chair Rodgers’s security claims, Oberwetter said Monday, “The Chinese Communist Party has neither direct nor indirect control of ByteDance or TikTok. Moreover, under the proposal we have devised with our country’s top national security agencies through CFIUS, that kind of data sharing—or any other form of foreign influence over the TikTok platform in the United States—would not be possible.”

If the government can’t strike a deal with TikTok over the next few months, lawmakers may prepare solutions of their own. TikTok’s growing dominance in the tech space has long been a bipartisan issue that could force Republicans and Democrats to work together over the next two years to resolve through legislation. As recently as last week, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) signed onto legislation introduced by China hawk Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) that would effectively ban TikTok nationwide. 

Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was reportedly considering offering a bill to ban a broader “category of applications” that could be applied to other apps that pose security risks, according to Axios.

A growing number of states and federal agencies have banned downloads of TikTok on government devices over the last few months, but Congress has yet to reach an agreement on any ban that would affect consumers. But recent reporting that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, tracked US journalists’ locations with data from the app has provided lawmakers fresh ammo in targeting the company.

“Americans deserve to know how these actions impact their privacy and data security, as well as what actions TikTok is taking to keep our kids safe from online and offline harms,” Rodgers said in a statement Monday. “We’ve made our concerns clear with TikTok. It is now time to continue the committee’s efforts to hold Big Tech accountable by bringing TikTok before the committee to provide complete and honest answers for people.”

UPDATED January 30th, 2023 at 11:55 PM ET: Added a statement from TikTok responding to the hearing announcement.

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