22nd March 2023 – (Washington) TikTok’s chief executive, Chew Shou Zi, will testify before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, assuring lawmakers that the app, which has more than 150 million American users, has never and will never share U.S. user data with the Chinese government. The testimony comes amid mounting concerns over national security and follows demands from the Biden administration that TikTok’s Chinese owners divest their stake in the app or face a US ban.
In his written testimony, Chew emphasised that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is not owned or controlled by any government or state entity and unequivocally stated that ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country. TikTok has faced allegations that it could pass on US user data to the Chinese government, which has prompted calls from US lawmakers to ban the app.
Chew’s testimony serves as one of the Chinese company’s most detailed rebuttals to the accusations against it. He pointed out that TikTok has spent over $1.5bn on what it calls “Project Texas”, a rigorous data security effort. The company has formed a subsidiary called TikTok US Data Security (USDS), which has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and contracted with Oracle to store TikTok’s US user data.
Chew further stated that Oracle has already begun inspecting TikTok’s source code and would have unprecedented access to related algorithms and data models. He added that when the process is complete, all protected US data would be under the protection of US law and under the control of the US-led security team. This would make it impossible for the Chinese government to access the data or compel access to it.
TikTok has spent over two years in talks with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, seeking to reach an agreement on protecting US user data. The CFIUS unanimously recommended in 2020 that ByteDance divest TikTok. In late 2020, under pressure from then-President Trump, ByteDance unsuccessfully sought to finalise a deal with Walmart and Oracle to shift TikTok’s US assets into a new entity. Trump then lost court battles seeking to ban TikTok.
Chew’s testimony says that 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. According to Chew, the average user of TikTok today is an adult well past college age.