TikTok might be banned from the United States. In this episode, hear testimony from TikTok’s CEO and judge for yourself if you think the arrangement that TikTok has negotiated with the U.S. government is enough to ensure that the Chinese government will not have the ability to manipulate the app or acquire your data. We also take a detailed look at the bill that would ban TikTok (by granting vast new authorities to the government) and we examine the big picture arena in which TikTok and the RESTRICT Act are merely sideshows.
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“Meet Shou Zi Chew, TikTok's 40-year-old CEO who's entered the spotlight as he tries to defend the company from growing security concerns and ban threats.” Katie Canales and Sarah Jackson. Mar 22, 2023. Insider.
“Shou Zi Chew Net Worth: How Rich Is The TikTok CEO?” Monica Aggarwal. March 23, 2023. International Business Times.
“There is no such thing as a private company in China. THEY DO NOT EXIST” [tweet]. Senator Marco Rubio [@SenMarcoRubio]. Mar 29, 2023. Twitter.
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March 30, 2023
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): Brazil - in our hemisphere, largest country in the western hemisphere south of us - cut a trade deal with China. They’re going to, from now on, trade in their own currencies, get right around the dollar. They’re creating a secondary economy in the world totally independent of the United States. We won’t have to talk about sanctions in 5 years because there will be so many countries transacting in currencies other than the dollar that we won’t have the ability to sanction them.
March 29, 2023
March 23, 2023 Fox News
Mark Warner: One of the things I always make clear is my beef is with the Communist Party of China. My beef is with Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader, who treats his own people awfully... and I do think you need to make that distinction. Not about Chinese people. But to deny the authoritarian regime and their record is not based on a factual analysis.
March 23, 2023
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Shou Chew, CEO, TikTok
7:15 Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): TikTok collects nearly every data point imaginable, from people's location, to what they type and copy, who they talk to, biometric data, and more. Even if they've never been on Tik Tok, your trackers are embedded in sites across the web. Tik Tok surveys us all, and the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole. We do not trust Tik Tok will ever embrace American values; values for freedom, human rights, and innovation. Tik Tok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance, and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned.
15:25 Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ): National security experts are sounding the alarm, warning that the Chinese Communist government could require TikTok to compromise device security, maliciously access American user data, promote pro-Communist propaganda, and undermine American interests. Disinformation campaigns could be launched by the by the Chinese Communist government through TikTok, which has already become rife with misinformation and disinformation, illegal activities, and hate speech. A recent report found that 20% of TikTok search results on prominent news topics contain misinformation.
20:35 Shou Chew: Let me start by addressing a few misconceptions about ByteDance, of which we are a subsidiary. ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government. It is a private company. 60% of the company is owned by global institutional investors, 20% is owned by the founder, and 20% owned by employees around the world. ByteDance has five board members, three of them are American. Now TikTok itself is not available in mainland China. We're headquartered in Los Angeles and in Singapore, and we have 7000 employees in the US today.
21:50 Shou Chew: The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel. We call this initiative Project Texas. That's where Oracle is headquartered. Today, U.S. TikTok data is stored by default in Oracle's service. Only vetted personnel operating in a new company called TikTok U.S. Data Security can control access to this data. Now, additionally, we have plans for this company to report to an independent American board with strong security credentials. Now, there's still some work to do. We have legacy U.S. data sitting in our servers in Virginia and in Singapore. We're deleting those and we expect that to be completed this year. When that is done, all protected U.S. data will be under the protection of US law and under the control of the U.S.-led security team. This eliminates the concern that some of you have shared with me that TikTok user data can be subject to Chinese law.
22:55 Shou Chew: We also provide unprecedented transparency and security for the source code for the TikTok app and recommendation engine. Third party validators like Oracle and others will review and validate our source code and algorithms. This will help ensure the integrity of the code that powers what Americans see on our app. We will further provide access to researchers, which helps them study and monitor our content ecosystem. Now we believe we are the only company that offers this level of transparency.
23:35 Shou Chew: The potential security, privacy, [and] content manipulation concerns raised about TikTok are really not unique to us. The same issues apply to other companies. We believe what's needed are clear, transparent rules that apply broadly to all tech companies. Ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns.
24:20 Shou Chew: TikTok will remain a place for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government.
27:30 Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): Have any moderation tools been used to remove content on TikTok associated with the Uyghur genocide? Yes or no? Shou Chew: We do not remove that kind of content. Tik Tok is a place for freedom of expression. Chairwoman, just like I said, if you use our app, you can go on it and you will see a lot of users around the world expressing content on that topic and many others. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): Thank you. What about the massacre in Tiananmen Square? Yes or no? Shou Chew: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the question. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): The massacre in Tiananmen Square. Shou Chew: That kind of content is available on our platform. You can go and search it.
28:05 Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): I will remind you that making false or misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime.
28:15 Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): Can you say with 100% certainty that ByteDance or the CCP cannot use your company or its divisions to heat content to promote pro-CCP messages for an act of aggression against Taiwan. Shou Chew: We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): The question is, are you 100% certain that they cannot use your company to promote such messages? Shou Chew: It is our commitment to this committee and all users that we will keep this free from any manipulation by any government.
39:10 Shou Chew: Congressman, since I've been CEO of this company I've not had any discussions with Chinese government officials.
43:55 Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA): The Chinese government has that data. How can you promise that that will move into the United States of America and be protected here? Shou Chew: Congresswoman, I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data. They have never asked us; we have not provided it. I've asked that -- Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA): Well, you know what, I find that actually preposterous. Shou Chew: I have looked and I have seen no evidence of this happening. And in order to assure everybody here and all our users, our commitment is to move the data into the United States to be stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel. So the risk will be similar to any government going to an American company asking for data.
44:40 Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA): Well I'm one that doesn't believe that there is really a private sector in China.
54:55 Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO): So I want to know from you, and I will give you time to answer this. You have current controls, but the current controls are not working to keep dosinformation mainly from young people, but from Americans in general. What more is is TikTok doing to try to strengthen its review to keep disinformation from coming across to people. Shou Chew: Thank you for the question, Congresswoman. The dangerous misinformation that you mentioned is not allowed on our platform. It violates the -- Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO): I'm sorry to report it is on your platform, though. Shou Chew: Congresswoman, I don't think I can sit here and say that we are perfect in doing this. We do work very hard. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO): How can you make yourself more perfect? I don't want you to say it's not there or you apologize. What can you do to limit it as much as possible, more than what you're doing now? Shou Chew: We invest a significant amount in our content moderation work. I shared that number in my written testimony -- Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO): I know you're investing, but what steps are you taking to improve the AI, or whatever else you're doing, to limit this content? Shou Chew: For example, if you search for certain search terms, we do direct you on TikTok to safety resources. That's one of the things we have done. We will continue to invest in this I recognize and fully aligned with you that this is a problem that faces our industry that we need to really invest and address this. I'm very in alignment.
1:07:05 Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL): Does TikTok share user information from companies...from parent companies...from affiliated...or send user information to...overseas? Shou Chew: In the past, yes, for interoperability purposes. Now, after Project Texas, all protected U.S. data will be stored here with the access controlled by a special team of U.S. personnel.
1:07:55 Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL): I do want a quote from employees that you had, and here's the quote, "everything is seen in China" is really what they said. People who were in touch with the sensitive data were saying that. How do you respond to that? Shou Chew: I disagree with that statement. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL): Well, I know you disagree with that statement. But my point is, how does that happen that employees of the company are saying that in fact, that's not true. Shou Chew: I cannot speak to, I don't know who this person is, so I cannot speak to what the person has or has not said. What I can say is, you know, based on my position in this company, and the responsibility that I have, that statement is just not true.
1:11:00 Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL): Yes or no, ByteDance is required to have a member of the Chinese government on its board with veto power, is that correct? Shou Chew: No, that is not correct. ByteDance owns some Chinese businesses and you're talking about this very special subsidiary that is for Chinese business license -- Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL): Mr. Chew, I'm gonna have to move on.
1:19:20 Shou Chew: First, anything that is violated and harmful, we remove. What I meant to say were [sic] content that is not inherently inherently harmful, like some of the extreme fitness videos about people running 100 miles, is not inherently harmful, but if we show them too much, the experts are telling us that we should disperse them more and make sure that they're not seen too regularly, especially by younger users.
1:33:20 Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH): Do you realize that making false and misleading statements to Congress is a federal crime? Shou Chew: Yes, I do. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH): Okay.
1:39:35 Shou Chew: We do want to be leading in terms of safety of our users, particularly for teenagers. We were the first to launch a 60 minute watch limit. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD): And let's talk about the 60 Minute -- Shou Chew: And I'm very glad to see others in our industry follow. For many of the recommendations, we will study them very seriously. We actually have a series of features. Like for example, if you're under 16, you cannot use a direct messaging feature, because we know we want to protect those younger users. If you're under 16, you cannot go viral by default. If you're under 18, you cannot go live.
1:48:20 Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY): Will you continue to get information from these third parties on its users health? Shou Chew: Get information? We do not get any user health information from third parties.
1:56:20 Shou Chew: The American data has always been stored in Virginia and Singapore in the past. And access of this is on an as required basis by engineers globally — Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): As required by who? Shou Chew: By engineers, for business purposes -- Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): Engineers? ByteDance? The Communist Party? Shou Chew: No, no. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): Why? How can you say that if they have access -- Shou Chew: This is a business. This is a private business, and like many other businesses, many other American companies, we rely on the global workforce. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): So the global workforce, that includes ByteDance, which is connected directly to the Chinese Communist Party. Shou Chew: That is a mischaracterization that we disagree with. Now, in the future -- Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): That's not what we can disagree with. That's a fact. Shou Chew: It's not, unfortunately. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): The CEO of ByteDance and your relationship to them. Shou Chew: Congressman, respectfully, in my opening statement, I said this is a private company, it's owned 60% by global investors. Three out of the five board members on ByteDance are Americans. This is a private business Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): You report directly to ByteDance, with a CEO who is a member of Communist Party. Let me move on — Shou Chew: He is not. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-SC): -- I think we got the answer.
2:07:20 Shou Chew: We do not collect body, face, or voice data to identify our users. We do not -- Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): You don't? Shou Chew: No, the only face data that you get that we collect is when you use the filters to have sunglasses on your face. We need to know where your eyes are -- Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): Why do you need to know what the eyes are if you're not seeing if they're dilated? Shou Chew: -- and that data is stored on your local device and deleted after use if you use it for facial. Again, we do not collect body, face, or voice data to identify users. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): I find that hard to believe.
2:30:20 Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL): When the Chinese Communist government bought a share ByteDance, it's been described as the Chinese Communist Government's way of quieter form of control, and that companies have little choice in selling a stake to the government if they want to stay in business, and what I'd like to know is when the Chinese Communist government moved to buy shares of ByteDance, were you informed beforehand, yes or no? Shou Chew: No, Congressman, ByteDance -- Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL): Were you or anyone with TikTok asked for your opinion about the sale of shares of ByteDance to the Chinese Communist government? Yes or no? Shou Chew: It just, this hasn't happened.
2:34:55 Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI): Mr. Chew, have any prior versions of TikTok's app collected precise GPS information from us users, yes or no? Shou Chew: Yes. From back in 2020, about three years ago. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI): Are there currently TikTok users who still hold old versions of the app that collect precise GPS information from U.S. users? Yes or no? Shou Chew: That could be, but that's a small percentage.
2:36:05 Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI): Has TikTok, at any time, sold precise GPS information collected from U.S. users? Yes or no? Shou Chew: We do not sell data to data brokers if that's the question. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI): And you've never done that? Shou Chew: I do not believe so.
2:37:15 Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI): Has TikTok, at any time, provided the Chinese government with either precise GPS information collected from U.S. users or inferences made from that data? Shou Chew: That I can give you a straight answer: no.
2:37:30 Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI): Mr. Chew, even in Congress, even if Congress were to ban Tiktok, I'm concerned that China or others would still have access to US consumer data by purchasing it through data brokers. Will you commit not to sell any of TikTok's data to data brokers now or in the future? Shou Chew: We do not do that. We do not sell data to data brokers now. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI): Will you commit to not do it in the future? Shou Chew: This is -- certain members of industry who do this. I think this has to be broad legislation to help us, the whole industry, address this problem.
3:13:15 Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ): A March 21, Forbes article revealed how troves of personal data of Indian citizens who once used TikTok remained widely accessible to employees at the company and its Beijing based parent ByteDance. A current TikTok employee told Forbes that nearly anyone with basic access to company tools, including employees in China, can easily look up the closest contacts and other sensitive information about any user. This current TikTok employee also said, "If you want to start a movement, if you want to divide people, if you want to do any of the operation to influence the public on the app, you can just use that information to target those groups." Mr. Chew, why would a current TikTok employee say this if it wasn't true? Shou Chew: This is a recent article, I have asked my team to look into it. As far as I know there is, we have rigorous data access protocols. There's really no such thing where anybody can get access to tools. Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ): Alright. Shou Chew: So I disagree with a lot of the conclusions of that.
3:18:20 Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL): So Mr. Chew, would TikTok be prepared to divest from ByteDance and Chinese Communist Party ties if the Department of Treasury instructed you all to do so? Shou Chew: Congressman, I said in my opening statement, I think we need to address the problem of privacy. I agree with you. I don't think ownership is the issue here, with a lot of respect. American social companies don't have a good track record with data privacy and user security. I mean, look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, just one example. So I do think that you know, it is not about the ownership, it is a lot about making sure we have Project Texas, making sure that we're protecting and firewalling U.S. user data from unwanted foreign access, giving third parties to come in to have a look at this and making sure that everybody is comfortable. We're giving transparency and third party monitoring and that's what we're doing for Project Texas.
4:24:15 Shou Chew: Congressman, we have only one process of removing content on our platform and the process is done by our content moderation team headquartered in Ireland and the US, and we will only remove content that violates our guidelines, and that's something that we audit, or if there's a valid legal order.
4:26:05 Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX): Here are my concerns with TikTok. Your claims are hard to believe. It's no secret to us that TikTok is still under the thumb of CCP influence and, let's be honest, TikTok is indoctrinating our children with divisive, woke, and pro-CCP propaganda.
4:27:15 Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX): Should we plan to have a committee hearing every time, every day, every time there's something brought up so that we can limit the content on TikTok? Should Congress plan to do that Mr. Chew?
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA): Almost 30% of the videos that came up contained misinformation...a high level of misinformation...misinformation...disinformation...misleading information...harmful misinformation...misinformation...misinformation. Why are these dangerous videos falling through the cracks of your company's efforts to enforce its own community guidelines and remove harmful misinformation?
4:30:20 Shou Chew: Yes, any dangerous misinformation is...we partner with third party experts to be able to identify and help us with subject domain expertise. And with their expertise that we recognize, we rely on those to develop policies to recognize and remove could be -- Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA): Well, your efforts I have failed, and they're dangerous.
4:33:10 Shou Chew: I can get back to you on the specifics, but dangerous misinformation is moderated regardless of language. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA): Not to the degree that it needs to be.
4:58:40 Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX): Are keystroke patterns and rhythms part of TikTok gathering the data that is gathered by TikTok? Shou Chew: If you're talking, Congressman, specifically about keystrokes, you know, we do not. We do not engage in keystroke logging to monitor what the users say. It's to identify bots for security purposes, and this is a standard industry practice.
5:26:50 Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX): Okay, so my last point is this, I want to say this to all the teenagers out there, and the TikTok influencers who think we're just old and out of touch and don't know what we're talking about, trying to take away your favorite app. You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but it will be one day when you do care about it. And here's the real problem: with data comes power. They can choose what you see and how you see it. They can make you believe things that are not true. They can encourage you to engage in behavior that will destroy your life. Even if it is not happening yet, it could in the future. The long term goal of the Chinese Communist Party is the demise of the American power, and that starts with our youth. At any moment, they could demand that all of TikTok's data be used to design an AI algorithm with the sole purpose of promoting Chinese interests and destroying our society from within. You want to know why Democrats and Republicans have come together on this? That's why we are so concerned.
2:07:55 Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): How do you determine what age they are then? Shou Chew: We rely on age-gating as our key age assur-- Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): Age...? Shou Chew: -gating, which is when you ask the user what age they are. We have also developed some tools where we look at their public profile to go through the videos that they post to see whether-- Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA): Well that's creepy. Tell me more about that. Shou Chew: It's public. So if you post a video [and] you choose that video to go public, that's how you get people to see your video. We look at those to see if it matches up the age that you told.
February 7, 2023
House Committee on Financial Services
Peter E. Harrell, Former Senior Director for International Economics and Competitiveness, National Security Council and National Economic Council
Rep. David Scott (D-GA): I am deeply concerned with the fast growing possibility of a China-led world order. That includes the Chinese military controlling the South Pacific trade route because the South Pacific trade war is now the lifeline of the entire global economy.
Peter E. Harrell: I think it's important that we all, as we think about China policy, we all recognize that China, though a serious competitor, and by far our most significant economic competitor, is not 10 feet tall. It's not some sort of mythical beast that we cannot out-compete. I think you've highlighted a couple of the reasons, Congresswoman, why that's the case. They do have high levels of debt. They also have serious long term demographic problems, coming to having a shrinking working age population.
Rep. William Timmins (R-SC): The question is what are we going to do to get China to reform their behavior and compete in the global economy and be good actors in the global economy. That's the question.
February 1, 2023
Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce
Samm Sacks, Senior Fellow, New America & Senior Fellow, Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center
Samm Sacks: I mean, to be honest, I think that the grading profiles based on aggregate data is primarily a counterintelligence concern for individuals with national security clearances and the military or access to sensitive information for your average American what that what the impact would probably be more in terms of would that population or individual preference information could that be used to push information that would make say, a spear phishing attack more appealing it might be more likely that someone would would be a would click on a link because it appealed to them based on information that was collected? And so I would say it's, I would look at it from that angle. But why highlighted in my testimony, the more sort of far reaching impact is on economic competitiveness, which is a distinct issue, right? It's on Chinese firms who are able to access diverse international data sets beyond China. What that allows them to do is train AI models that could be more competitive in markets outside of China, where they're competing head to head with US firms. So I would bucket the risk. You have national security issues. You also have missed it targeted misinformation that could be used from that, as well as economic competitiveness between us and Chinese firms. And it's important to sort of be clear about those distinct buckets of risk.
Samm Sacks: I guess I'll start with the TikTok issue. But you know, I think that there are two important issues on the table. One is data security, who has access to what, and the other is the potential to push misinformation online, the recommendation algorithm. My understanding is that there is a national security agreement on the table. You know, from a data security standpoint, if Oracle has the data in the cloud, there are multiple third party auditors and an oversight board that reports to CFIUS, I think that that would be pretty much locked down. The question around what kind of information the recommendation system pushes forward is an important one. And that also under this agreement -- it's called Project Texas and I've published about it just a week or so ago -- would be again, subject to verification, source code reviewed, essentially vetted by CFIUS. I think it's important that the public understand what that national security agreement would look like and then have a debate. Is this enough to address those concerns? And to what extent would other social media companies also need to meet them?