Tiktok boss Shou Zi Chew was met with deep-seated distrust and rejection during a survey in the US Congress. During the five-hour hearing, President Joe Biden's Democrats and Republicans emphasized with rare unity that previous steps to isolate US data from the short video app from the Chinese parent company Bytendace were not enough for them. A key topic on Thursday was ownership.
"Tiktok must become an American company with American values and cut ties with the Chinese Communist Party," said Democratic MP Darren Soto. Republican Marianette Miller-Meeks also emphasized that the technology of other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter was "developed in the USA, according to US guidelines, under US data protection laws". For his part, Shou Zi Chew referred to the problems of US platforms with data protection, such as the Facebook scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica.
Tiktok emphasizes that it is not a subsidiary of a Chinese group, since Bytedance is 60 percent owned by western investors and the company's official headquarters are in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Critics counter that the Chinese founders held 20 percent of the control thanks to higher voting rights and that Bytedance has a large headquarters in Beijing. According to media reports, the US government is demanding an exit from Chinese shareholders.
"Project Texas" met with rejection
Tiktok expressed disappointment with the course of the hearing, in which Shou Zi Chew was often interrupted by MPs and was unable to comment on their allegations. The day was dominated by "political sensationalism," said a spokeswoman. "The real solutions" were not addressed.
The Tiktok boss had tried to convince MPs with a plan called "Project Texas". Data from US users is to be stored on servers in the USA and access to it is to be restricted and controlled. This also means that every update of the app is checked by the US software company Oracle before it goes to the users.
The senior Democrat on the Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone, countered that the data silo plan was "simply unacceptable." He believes "that the communist government in Beijing will control and influence everything they do," he told the Tiktok boss.
West concerned about data abuse
Shou Zi Chew denied the allegations, but often avoided confrontation by offering to provide information later. He did not answer the question of why the Chinese government announced that it wanted to prevent a forced sale of Tiktok if Bytedance was not a Chinese company.
In the app you can scroll from one short video to the next. A decisive factor for success is the software algorithm, which selects clips individually for each user and constantly adapts them to their preferences. Among other things, it is taken into account whether you have watched a video to the end or scrolled through immediately. In the end, the software has a good idea of the users' interests. One of the concerns in the West is that this wealth of data could be misused.
At the hearing, Republican John Curtis asked if the data could be used to develop an algorithm "that could convince me to change my mind on a political issue." Shou Zi Chew started with an evasive answer, but was cut off.