Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) pressed TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew during a congressional hearing Thursday on the fact that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has access to data of the millions of Americans who use the popular app.
Cammack pointedly asked Chew during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, “My colleague Rep. [Bob] Latta confirmed that your parent company ByteDance currently can access user data, yes?”
“Let’s— we have to be more specific,” Chew replied.
“Yes?” Cammack asked again.
“After Project Texas, no,” Chew said, in reference to the heavily scrutinized initiative that, according to Chew, would essentially create a firewall that shields TikTok user data from Chinese access.
“I’m not asking after Project Texas. I’m asking now,” Cammack said, to which Chew responded, “Some user data is public data, congresswoman, which means everybody can search for it on the internet.”
The hours-long hearing was a rare, brutal bipartisan beatdown of TikTok, which members of Congress across the political spectrum are threatening to ban because of its ByteDance ownership.
Chew insisted during the hearing that the notion that ByteDance is “owned or controlled” by China’s communist government is a “misconception.” However, some of ByteDance’s top employees, such as editor-in-chief Zhang Fuping, are members and affiliates of the country’s government.
ByteDance has been accused of misrepresenting the level of privacy it affords its users as well as spying on the locations of American journalists.
While Chew cited in his written testimony for the hearing that a CitizenLab study found TikTok had engaged in “no overt data transmission” to the CCP and that the app “did not contact any servers within China,” the director of CitizenLab was quick to publicly rejected Chew’s usage of the study, as pointed out by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr:
Observing that Chew during his testimony and responses to questions had used the term “transparency” more than a half-dozen times, Cammack charged that his posture did not jive with her finding that ByteDance had also “airbrush[ed]” away its ties to the CCP on its website.
“The interesting thing to me is that ByteDance, your parent company, has gone out of their way to hide and airbrush corporate structure, ties to the CCP, the company’s founder, and their activities,” Cammack said.
You can look no further than the fact that ByteDance website has been scrubbed. In fact, we found web pages from the Beijing Internet Association, the industry association charged with Communist Party building work of internet companies in Beijing. They have been archived but since deleted. Makes you kind of wonder why. Yes or no, ByteDance is required to have a member of the Chinese government on its board with veto power, is that correct?
Chew replied, “No, that is not correct. ByteDance owns some Chinese businesses and you’re talking about this very special subsidiary.”
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