TikTok CEO grilled in Congress as US mulls ban over link

Friday, March 24th, 2023 06:00 | By
TikTok signage. PHOTO/Courtesy

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew fought for the survival of the hugely popular video-sharing app in the United States yesterday as he faced sceptical Washington lawmakers over the company’s alleged ties to the Chinese government.

He gave testimony in the US Congress for the first time, a scary thing to do. At stake is the future of the phenomenally popular video-sharing app in the US.

“I think that there is a real risk that if this hearing doesn’t go well… that could have a massive impact on the future of TikTok,” said Chris Stokel-Walker, author of TikTok Boom.

Chew  was expected to face a barrage of questions on TikTok’s relationship with China, what data it collects, and what it does with it.

He was also to be quizzed on why several journalists were spied on by ByteDance employees - something TikTok has already admitted.

Speaking before the appearance, Stokel-Walker said Chew would say user data is safe - away from the reach of the Chinese government. He knows politicians from all sides want to see the platform either sold - or outright banned in the US.

“He’s going into the lion’s den,” said Stokel-Walker.

Chew is going to need to give the performance of a lifetime. And already, close observers have seen a change of tactic from the Singaporean.TikTok’s boss, who has had a range of senior positions in the world of finance, generally sports a suit jacket and tie.

Tech founder

But on Tuesday, he posted a TikTok with a very different look. Instead of a suit, he was wearing a white T-shirt and hoodie - the uniform of the nonchalant tech founder. The 40-year-old was suddenly speaking like a teenager too - talking of being “super excited”.

“I think he’s trying to give off a sort of the casual tech bro,” said Caitlin Chin from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank.

“He’s actually been starting to gain a bit more of a public profile, especially leading up to this hearing.”

The Singaporean has generally kept a low profile since taking over at TikTok in 2021.   However, that approach appears to have changed. TikTok is fighting for its life, and Mr Chew knows it. The big problem TikTok has in the US and Europe is that it is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance.    

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