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What to know about today’s TikTok hearing
- TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
- The hearing is focused on the app’s data privacy practices, how it protects children from “online harms” and its connection to the Chinese Communist Party, according to a release. The hearing is led by committee chair, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and ranking member, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
- Congress and President Joe Biden are looking at ways to crack down on the app, including a potential U.S. ban.
- Chew said in his opening statement that TikTok is safe and secure and that it shouldn’t be banned. He also noted that 150 million people in the U.S. are active TikTok users, underscoring how entrenched the app has become in the three years Washington has sought to rein it in.
TikTok CEO assures lawmakers user safety is a ‘top priority’
Rodgers presses Chew on China, warns him against ‘false’ statements
Rodgers pressed Chew about TikTok’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party, at one point warning him “that making false or misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime.”
“I understand,” Chew said, later saying that the platform does not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government.
Would U.S. apps benefit from a TikTok ban? Probably
India offers some idea what would happen if the U.S. bans TikTok.
Research from the app data company Apptopia found that Instagram benefited greatly when India banned TikTok in 2020. In a blog post, Apptopia’s head of content, Adam Blacker, wrote that its data showed people rushed to download TikTok alternatives. He noted that smaller apps could see a big bump.
“Social apps that were already available on the app stores saw their year-over-year performance increase at rates they had never experienced before,” he wrote.
Pallone focuses on broader privacy concerns with Big Tech
Pallone said children and teenagers are particularly vulnerable to TikTok’s “addictive and damaging features.”
He expressed concern over TikTok’s ability to push disinformation but focused much of his opening statement on privacy regulation more broadly.
“Public outrage and hollow apologies alone are not going to rein in Big Tech,” said Pallone, the top Democrat on the committee.
He addressed Chew directly, saying, “I know this is about TikTok but I am focusing all of my attention not only on TikTok but on … wide concerns” about social media privacy.
Rodgers says people need the truth about TikTok
Rodgers said at the start of the hearing that TikTok “should be banned” and the fact that there are 150 million American users on the platform “emphasizes the urgency for Congress to act.”
“Mr. Chew, you are here because the American people need the truth about the threat TikTok poses to our national and personal security. TikTok collects nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s location to what they type and copy, biometric data and more. … TikTok surveils us all,” she said. “And the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole. We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values.”
She continued: “Your platform should be banned. I expect today you’ll say anything to avoid this outcome.”
TikTok’s CEO is now testifying
Hearing kicks off with remarks from Rodgers
Today’s House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing has begun with opening remarks from Rodgers, who called on the audience to “maintain decorum” as Chew testifies.
“Americans need the truth,” she said.
Public and media pack small hearing room for Chew’s testimony
Today’s hearing is taking place in a fairly small committee room, with press and members of the public packing the seats. Among them appear to be several TikTok creators who attended a rally yesterday in support of the app.
Chew made a brief statement as he arrived, flanked by TikTok creators. He said he’s committed to keeping TikTok a safe place for free expression and said there is a “firewall” around U.S. data.
Committee chair says hearing will ‘expose the truth’ about TikTok threat
Rodgers said Chew will appear in front of the committee today “for us to expose the truth about the threat that TikTok poses to our national and personal security,” during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
She added that TikTok has been “caught repeatedly in lies” about its connection to ByteDance and the Chinese Communist Party. The committee will ask Chew “why he has said that individuals’ data is not being tracked or there’s not surveillance” despite journalists having been tracked and TikTok employees having said that “everything is seen by China,” she said.
“Those are the kind of questions that we want to ask and ultimately to expose the fact that TikTok is a threat and now cannot be trusted with our data,” she said.
Rodgers said she believes that there will be a “renewed call” by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for a national data privacy standard in the U.S.
Sen. Mark Warner knocks TikTok’s credibility ahead of hearing
“While I appreciate Mr. Chew’s willingness to answer questions before Congress, TikTok’s lack of transparency, repeated obfuscations, and misstatements of fact have severely undermined the credibility of any statements by TikTok employees, including Mr. Chew,” Warner said in a statement yesterday afternoon.
Warner noted that his RESTRICT Act has bipartisan support with 20 co-sponsors in the Senate. The White House has endorsed the bill, which would give the commerce secretary broad powers to regulate, or ban, technology produced in six countries defined as a “foreign adversary”: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
China criticizes possible U.S. plan to force TikTok sale
China’s government said Thursday it would oppose possible U.S. plans to force TikTok’s Chinese owner to sell the short-video service as a security risk and warned such a move would hurt investor confidence in the United States.
“If the news is true, China will resolutely oppose it,” said Shu Jueting, a Chinese Commerce Ministry spokeswoman. She gave no indication what Beijing might do.
A forced sale “would seriously damage investors from multiple countries including China” and hurt “confidence to invest in the United States,” she said.
The House’s biggest TikToker defends the app, but says security worries are ‘real’
A TikTok-famous North Carolina lawmaker said Wednesday that while he recognizes “real” security concerns tied to the Chinese-owned video app, he also doesn’t see a ban as inevitable.
Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson, who boasts 1.2 million followers on TikTok, said in an interview that he attributes some of his public recognition to the popular app, which has helped him reach constituents of varying ages.
“It just happens to be the case that you get way more views on TikTok than you do on Instagram or Facebook. Like 10 times as many,” Jackson, 40, said. “I have been able to reach a lot of people, and at the same time I think the security concerns are real.”
China has some of the most popular apps of the moment
Many of the most popular apps on Apple and Google’s respective platforms are owned by or linked to Chinese companies.
TikTok CEO to appear before Congress amid growing security concerns
Creators protest potential TikTok ban in D.C. before the hearing
A group of about 30 content creators gathered outside the nation’s Capitol yesterday, holding signs that echoed their plea to lawmakers: “Keep TikTok.”
The TikTokers — who have a collective following of over 60 million people — joined Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., for a rally to discuss their opposition to a potential ban.
“I use TikTok to share a love of my family and our journey through foster care and adoption, and through that I’ve been able to create a community of people from all over the world,” TikTok creator Jason Linton, known as @dadlifejason, said while addressing the crowd. “I’m asking our politicians: Don’t take away the community that we’ve built.”
‘Ban TikTok’: GOP Sen. Tom Cotton says ‘American data is at risk’
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said nothing that Chew says during his congressional hearing “will change the fact that American data is at risk.”
Cotton introduced one of the bills to ban the Chinese-owned social media platform in the U.S., saying that it collects private information of American users “and provides the Chinese Communist Party with access to that information.”
“Ban TikTok,” Cotton declared in a tweet this morning before the hearing began.
Tech lab tells TikTok to stop citing its work
The head of the Citizen Lab, an academic research project at the University of Toronto, said Wednesday night that he is “disappointed” that TikTok executives continue to cite its work as a defense of the app’s data practices.
“I’ve called them out on this in the past, and it’s unfortunate that I have to do it again,” Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert wrote.
The lab published research in 2021 that found TikTok collected data like many other apps, but could not tell what the company did with that data.
“The conversation about potential privacy and national security concerns with TikTok should serve as a reminder that most social media apps are unacceptably invasive-by-design, treat users as raw materials for data surveillance, and fall short on transparency about their data sharing practices,” Deibert added.
TikTok ban would be ‘a slap in the face’ to young voters, activists warn
In the nation’s capital, the debate over banning TikTok has largely focused on whether the app’s Chinese parent company poses a security threat to Americans.
But behind closed doors, Democrats are also being forced to weigh whether blocking the popular video platform could come with heavy political costs.
In 2020, Aidan Kohn-Murphy used TikTok to rally support for Joe Biden. Now, he’s trying to use the platform to stop Biden from killing it.
“I’m not defending TikTok as a company, I’m defending my entire generation,” said the 19-year-old Harvard freshman who, as a high schooler during the 2020 campaign founded a group called TikTok for Biden. It has since changed its name to Gen Z for Change, formally incorporated as a political nonprofit group, and says it now includes 500 creators with a combined 500 million followers on multiple platforms.
“If they went ahead with banning TikTok, it would feel like a slap in the face to a lot of young Americans,” he added. “Democrats don’t understand the political consequences this would have.”
TikTok CEO to tell Congress the app is safe and shouldn’t be banned
TikTok’s CEO plans to tell Congress the social media platform is safe and secure for teenagers and other users and that it won’t be accessed or influenced by the Chinese government, according to his prepared remarks.
In his first appearance before Congress, Chew will also confirm that TikTok now boasts 150 million users in America — a 50% increase since 2020, as NBC News has reported, a sign that it’s now an integral part of American society.
Many of those users in the U.S., he will say, are artists, musicians, chefs and other creators, as well as small-business owners, in a clear appeal to Republican members of the panel.
What a TikTok ban would mean for users
TikTok hasn’t yet indicated it will sell, but it has tried to persuade U.S. officials that they can address security concerns and meet the level of proposed scrutiny. TikTok’s CEO has argued a ban wouldn’t address security concerns.
But what would a ban mean for consumers? Is there any precedent?
NBC News spoke with four people who have studied cybersecurity, national security and technology policy who offered some ideas about how a TikTok ban could work.
Chew makes his first appearance before Congress today
Chew will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 10 a.m. ET.
It will be his first appearance before a congressional panel since he took over as CEO in April 2021.
The hearing, titled “TikTok: How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms,” will be led by Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and ranking member Frank Pallone, D-N.J.