The chief executive officer of TikTok is set to testify before Congress on March 23.
Shou Zi Chew will argue the social media app is not a threat to Americans despite months of growing concern about the app’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party and its data harvesting practices.
The Biden administration has told ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, that it can either sell the app or be banned in the United States.
Chew argues that TikTok is “is simply too integral to US internet users to break up,” reports Gizmodo. TikTok has 150 million monthly American users. An estimated 92% of those users are over the age of 18 and potential voters in the upcoming election. In an effort to win support for the app, Chew’s appeal is largely directly to users.
In a video filmed in Washington D.C., Chew said “almost half of the US” uses TikTok to “connect, to create, to share, to learn or just to have some fun.”
Chew estimated this week that 5 million small- and medium-sized businesses use the video-sharing platform. Both businesses and individuals who rely on social media for their income use the platform to promote themselves and connect with audiences.
TikTok unveiled a new paywall program in early March known as “Series” that allows creators to charge $1 to $190 for users to see certain content on their profiles. The videos can be up to 20 minutes long – a break from the platform’s typical short-form content. TikTok will take an undisclosed portion of the earnings.
Chew also noted in his video that TikTok employs 7,000 people in the US. Those employees would undoubtedly be impacted by a complete ban on the app.
Chew asked TikTok users to comment what “you want your elected representative to know about why you love about TikTok” on his video.
“TikTok creators are small business owners trying to make a living and put food on their tables, teachers educating the next generation of leaders, and everyday innovators who represent the breadth of America,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to NBC News. “If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”
TikTok has denied the data it collects from users – including geolocation, internet browsing history, and cell phone carrier – are accessible to officials from the Chinese government.
US lawmakers have pointed out that, under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, businesses located in China are required to assist the government with intelligence work including disclosing user data.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray has called TikTok’s data collection policies a threat to America’s national security. As concern about the app grew through the end of 2022, more than 25 governors have banned accessing or downloading the devices on government-owned networks or devices in an effort to protect their citizens’ privacy.
More than a dozen senators from both political parties have backed the Restrict Act which would give the commerce secretary power to ban certain services. The senators want President Biden to shut down TikTok.
“Over the past several years, foreign adversaries of the United States have encroached on American markets through technology products that steal sensitive location data and identifying information of U.S. citizens, including social media platforms like TikTok,” said West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who introduced the bill, in a March 7 statement. “This dangerous new internet infrastructure poses serious risks to our nation’s economic and national security.”