What to Know About Today’s Congressional Hearing on TikTok
Shou Chew, the chief executive of TikTok, will testify before Congress for the first time on Thursday, in an appearance that is expected to reflect US lawmakers’ escalating distrust of the short-form video app’s Chinese ownership.
The hearing, which will begin at 10 am before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will give lawmakers a rare opportunity to ask Mr. Chew questions directly about TikTok’s relationship with its Chinese owner, ByteDance, as well as about the app’s handling of sensitive US user data and the risks it may pose to teens and children.
TikTok is working to secure its future in the United States, one of its biggest markets, where it says it has 150 million users and where it has become a culture-making machine. But lawmakers have questions about ByteDance’s links to the Chinese government and whether those could put TikTok’s US user data into the hands of Beijing officials. US intelligence officials like the director of the FBI, Christopher A. Wray, have also warned that the Chinese government could use TikTok’s algorithm for “influence operations.”
TikTok, which was initially hailed as China’s first global internet success story, has come to represent the growing divide between the United States and China over tech leadership and national security. The app has become a battleground in a technological Cold War between the two countries, with US threats of a TikTok ban recalling how China has long blocked many American platforms.
To continue operating in the United States under ByteDance’s ownership, TikTok has sought approval from a group of federal agencies known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, for a plan called Project Texas. That plan outlines how TikTok will prevent the Chinese government from having access to US user data or meddling with content recommendations, with oversight from government-approved officials and third-party auditors.
The plan has not been approved. Last week, it emerged that the Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese ownership to sell the app or face a possible ban.
Amid the lack of resolution, more than two dozen states, several colleges and Congress have enacted bans on TikTok in recent months. The White House also recently backed a bipartisan Senate bill that would give the administration more power to deal with TikTok, including a potential ban.
During Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Chew, a native of Singapore who continues to live in the country, may also be asked about ByteDance’s surveillance of American journalists, which has been under investigation by the Justice Department. The company admitted in December that Chinese-based ByteDance employees retrieved sensitive data from US TikTok users, including reporters, to try to find a leak.
On Tuesday, Mr. Chew posted a TikTok to the company’s main account, which has 69.2 million followers. He called this moment “pivotal” and said that TikTok could go away but that he would testify about the app’s efforts to protect Americans. He asked users to share what they loved about TikTok in the comments. TikTok also flew dozens of creators to Washington after weeks of recruitment and held news conferences with them.
The chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington.