TikTok’s CEO spent 5 hours in the hot seat producing lots of entertainment but little else

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew
Olivier Douliery—AFP/Getty Images

Video-sharing app TikTok has a public image problem, and the U.S. government has an internet literacy problem. Together, it makes for an impressive spectacle.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee spent five hours on Thursday hounding TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew with questions about potentially harmful algorithms and data privacy. For his part, Chew seemed to only compound the firm’s reputation issues by debating the semantics of the word “spying” in reference to reports that TikTok tracked American journalists’ precise location. Members of Congress, infamously known for their limited understanding of the inner workings of the internet, also had the chance to blunder their talking points too.

“Does TikTok access the home WiFi network?” Republican representative for North Carolina Richard Hudson asked Chew, who seemed just as confused by the question as Hudson was asking it.

The ongoing spectacle of detangling TikTok from its Chinese owner, which now lies at a stalemate, has seen no meaningful progress. The Biden and Trump administrations have both threatened a ban on the app if ByteDance fails to sell off TikTok’s U.S. operations, and China said it would strongly oppose any forced sale of TikTok. The 5-hour-long hearing only exacerbated the strained relationship between the two parties, while hardly moving the needle on significant protections for U.S. citizens. 

The most consequential issue left on the table after the hearing is that of national privacy legislation, or the lack thereof. As Will Oremus of the Washington Post writes, “the people most responsible for failing to safeguard Americans’ data, arguably, are American lawmakers.”

The U.S. government has long been critical of TikTok’s rise in popularity—which recently hit a milestone of 150 million U.S. users—and its connections to China’s authoritarian government. Chinese law allows the government to seek inside information from companies based there in instances when it believes there are national security issues—a scenario that the U.S. government believes poses a national security risk for its citizens. And, as my colleague David Meyer has written, U.S. law also allows the government to demand user information from service providers in certain situations.

It remains to be seen if the hearing will amount to any actionable protections for American citizens, or for the thousands of children engaging with these social platforms, but it certainly produced some popcorn-worthy entertainment.

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Kylie Robison

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


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