A high-stakes standoff between the U.S. government and social media app TikTok over a potential ban had its reckoning on Thursday when TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before a committee of House lawmakers.
The China-based app, which counts more than 150 million U.S. users each month, has faced growing scrutiny from government officials over fears that user data could fall into the possession of the Chinese government and the app could be weaponized by China to spread misinformation.
There is no evidence that TikTok has shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, but policymakers fear that the Chinese government could compel the company to do so.
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Hearing ends after hourslong display of bipartisan hostility toward TikTok
The hearing adjourned Thursday afternoon after roughly five hours of pointed questioning from dozens of House members across both major parties.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, closed the proceeding with a return to an issue that animated many of the questions volleyed by Republicans and Democrats alike: data security.
Crenshaw said while TikTok may not have shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government yet, he said the company could be forced to comply with a future data request.
"Maybe you haven't done it yet," Crenshaw said, addressing Chew. "But my point is that you might have to."
"If you want to know why Democrats and Republicans have come together on this," Crenshaw added. "That's why."
Texas representative calls on TikTok to remove his state from name of data privacy project
Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, implored Chew to remove “Texas” from the company’s data privacy project.
Chew previously touted Project Texas, an ongoing effort that he says keeps all data on U.S. users within the country through a partnership with Oracle.
"Please rename your project. Texas is not the appropriate name,” Pfluger said. “We stand for freedom and transparency and we don’t want your project.”
Who is TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew?
Despite the booming popularity of TikTok, Chew is relatively unknown compared to rival executives like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or Twitter CEO Elon Musk.
Chew, 40, interned at Facebook and graduated from University College of London as well as Harvard Business School on his way to becoming TikTok CEO in 2021.
"I am responsible for all the strategic decisions at TikTok," Chew told The New York Times in November.
He currently lives with his wife and two children in Singapore, where he was born and raised.
TikTok CEO on national security fears: ‘I have not seen any evidence.'
Raising national security concerns, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., listed a slew of Western countries as well as the FBI that have warned about the Chinese government accessing and exploiting user data.
"How can all of these countries and our own FBI director be wrong?" Lesko asked.
"I think a lot of risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks," Chew responded. "I have not seen any evidence."
"I'm eagerly awaiting discussions where we talk about evidence," he added. "And we then can address the concerns that are being raised."
TikTok has not shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, nor would it comply if asked to do so, Chew previously said.