China asserted on Friday that it does not require companies to hand over data collected abroad, as the company is owned by China. TikTok faced calls for a ban in the United States.
Pressure is growing on the hugely popular video-sharing app – owned by the Chinese company Bytedance — to gain new ownership or lose access to the huge US market.
During a grueling five-hour hearing with U.S. lawmakers on Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced relentless questions from belligerent U.S. lawmakers in both countries. two political camps about the app’s relationship with China and its dangers to teenagers.
At the heart of many concerns about TikTok is China’s 2017 law requiring local companies to hand over personal data to the state if it concerns national security.
Beijing on Friday denied it would require Chinese companies to hand over data collected overseas and said it “takes data privacy protection very seriously”.
China “has never and will not ask companies or individuals to collect or provide data overseas,” foreign ministry spokesman Mao Ning told a regular news conference.
“The US government has so far not provided any evidence that TikTok poses a threat to their national security,” Mao added.
In a particularly heated exchange on Thursday, Chew was forced to admit that some Americans’ personal data was still subject to Chinese law, but insisted that would soon be changed.
The company also admitted in November that some employees in China were able to access European user data, and then admitted in December that employees had used the data to spy on journalists.
But the group has insisted that the Chinese government has no control over or access to their data.
“ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government and is a private company,” Chew told lawmakers in his opening remarks, referring to TikTok’s parent company based in China. Country.
“We believe what is needed is clear transparency rules that apply broadly to all tech companies – ownership is not core to addressing these concerns,” added Chew. .
The former Harvard-educated banker has been unable to defuse the existential threat to TikTok as the app seeks to survive after the White House ultimatum that it must either secede from Chinese ownership or banned in the United States.
Lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committees give Chew no respite, frequently turning down his opportunities to expand on his answers or advertise his global popularity. website with young people.
The ban would be an unprecedented act for a US government media company, cutting off the country’s 150 million monthly users from an app that has become a cultural powerhouse — especially for young people.
“TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path of more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned,” said committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
TikTok supporters and free-speech activists criticized the hearing as political theater and called for an outright ban.
PEN’s Nadine Farid Johnson said: “Being brave with TikTok and by extending Americans’ First Amendment protections, is not the right solution to the risks TikTok poses to rights. American privacy and the national security of the United States”. America defends freedom of speech.
And Beijing noted on Friday that “some in the US congress claimed that seeking a TikTok ban was a xenophobic political crackdown”.
TikTok still hopes to appease the authorities.
Chew’s testimony prompted the company’s elaborate plan – known as Project Texas – to respond to national security concerns under which US data processing would be delegated to a separate department. division operated by the United States.
But lawmakers have cast doubt on the project, saying it will do little to allay their concerns that TikTok is vulnerable to China.