Virginia Senator backs bill to address security concerns as TikTok’s CEO fights proposed ban

TikTok’s CEO testified before a House Committee on Thursday.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 6:23 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Chief Executive Officer of TikTok is fighting a proposed U.S. ban as Congressional lawmakers raise security concerns about the social media platform. Meanwhile, one Virginia Senator is backing a bill that would monitor potential security risks.

TikTok CEO, Shou Chew, testified Thursday in front of members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Lawmakers told him, they believe foreign entities like China could access data of the 150 million Americans who use TikTok. Lawmakers add the platform’s algorithms could be harmful to youth and be used to control information for American users.

“TikTok has repeatedly chose the path of more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned,” said Rep. Cathy Rodgers, (R-WA).

Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, watched the House hearing closely. When Washington News Bureau reporter Jamie Bittner asked Warner if the testimony by TikTok’s CEO eased his concerns about the platform, Warner said ‘no.’

“The truth is, TikTok is owned by ByteDance. ByteDance is a Chinese company. Chinese law as of 2017 requires that any Chinese company at the end of the day, their first responsibility is not to their customers, not to their shareholders, but to the Communist Party. And so here’s this app that’s very popular, and I get it. There’s a lot of creativity. And I think if TikTok was to disappear, other companies would provide similar service. But you’ve got 150 million Americans. And part of the genius of TikTok is it learns from you as you interact. That’s sucking data out of you on a regular basis. So you can’t answer the fact that if the Communist Party says to Bytedance, give us all that data, they got to do it,” said Warner.

Warner is one of nearly 20 Senators who are supporting a bipartisan bill called the RESTRICT act. It would give the Department of Commerce the tools to track potential harm posed by foreign technology products. The measure has already gained support from President Biden.

“My approach would be a rules-based approach that would give the Secretary of Commerce tools that go against technology from countries like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea,” said Warner, “....Here’s something I think some folks have missed is the Chinese Communist Party has said, well, they would rather TikTok be banned in America than give up the source code, the algorithms, that make it so seductive and and addictive than to have that source code reside some place out of China. That, in my mind, speaks volumes about the power to use that algorithm for malicious purposes.”

Meanwhile TikTok’s CEO stressed to lawmakers that TikTok is not in mainland China. Rather, it is headquartered in Los Angeles and Singapore. He said American workers oversee American data. Plus, he said TikTok has installed a firewall to protect information. And, the platform is currently working to delete any legacy data that may not have fallen under the security upgrades.

“When that is done, all protected U.S. data will be under the protection of US law and under the control the US-led security team. This eliminates the concern that some of you have shared with me, that total user data can be subject to Chinese law. This goes further, by the way, than any other company in our industry has done,” said Chew.

Social media influencers and small businesses have argued that they rely on TikTok for income and exposure. Others argue, TikTok is a source of information for many people across the United States, including young voters. Warner had this to say to people who may be upset about the potential ban.

“I think at the end of the day, we’ve got to make the case that this is a national security risk. And I believe enough in the market that some other app will show up that will provide this same kind of service. I think there’s a lot of creativity on TikTok and there’s a lot of social influencers who make their living. I think that will not disappear, and so there will be some way to express that creativity. And remember, this is not just an American issue. Canada has recently banned it off their government phones. Britain did the same. And in the Netherlands they said to any media people, Hey, get it off your phones, because China’s probably spying on you as a media person. And India, literally three years ago, they banned it entirely out of the whole country. So this is a global phenomena about concerns with the Communist Party,” said Warner.