TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew speaks to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, during which he was met with vocal opposition from U.S. lawmakers over concerns that U.S. consumer data could be made available to China's political leaders. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
March 23 (UPI) -- TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew got a cold reception on Capitol Hill Thursday as the tech executive received bipartisan questioning about the video platform's ability to protect U.S. consumer information from ending up in the hands of Chinese leaders.
Chew tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to persuade members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that personal information will be protected on U.S. servers located in the country where Chinese officials will not have access to them. Most committee members, though, were not convinced.
"To the American people watching today, hear this: TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see, and exploit for future generations," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., according to CNN.
When Chew told the committee that TikTok has the plan to wall off U.S. information from the rest of its businesses, dubbed "Project Texas," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.. was not moved.
"I still believe that the Beijing communist government will still control and have the ability to influence what you do," he told Chew.
Chew said TikTok has developed a loyal following in the United States and it is committed to keeping their information safe and relieve lawmakers' fears of content manipulation and safeguarding information.
"There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them, which is why I'm making the following commitments to you and our users," he said.
He said Project Texas would use third-party companies such as Oracle to have some degree of oversight of TikTok's data practices, similar to what they are doing in Europe.
With the majority of complaints leaning on national security, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., slammed Chew and TikTok for the prevalence of self-harm videos on the site and other content moderation challenges.
"Your technology is literally leading to death," Bilirakis said. "It is unacceptable, sir, that even after knowing all these dangers, you still claim that TikTok is something grand to behold. Would you share this content with your two children?"
Chew time and again tried to push back against concerns about China's access to TikTok data.
"I understand that there are concerns stemming from the inaccurate belief that TikTok's corporate structure makes it beholden to the Chinese government or that it shares information about U.S. users with the Chinese government," Chew said in his prepared statement. "This is emphatically untrue."
His testimony comes days after TikTok unveiled the "most comprehensive" update to its community guidelines in an effort to combat misinformation and protect the integrity of elections as Chinese scrutiny on Capitol Hill reached a groundswell.
Last week, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced a bill to block companies who partner and advertise with TikTok from receiving federal funds after Rubio introduced the bill to ban the app from government devices in December.
Earlier this month, the White House informed federal agencies that they had 30 days to remove TikTok from all government devices amid mounting fears that U.S. secrets may end up in the hands of Chinese Communist Party courtesy of the platform.
The White House has also threatened to ban TikTok from the entire country unless its Chinese owners were willing to fork over total stake in the company.
President Joe Biden was also said to be backing bipartisan legislation put forth by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., which would seek to ban similar technologies that are produced by several global adversaries.