TikTok Chief Executive Officer Shou Zi Chew plans to tell Congress his app does more to protect young users than rival social media platforms, invoking a familiar argument as he tries to head off a U.S. ban or forced sale.
The app owned by Chinese internet leader ByteDance Ltd. expends a lot of effort protecting its mostly youthful contingent, Chew plans to say when he testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday, according to prepared comments reviewed by Bloomberg News. That includes blocking under-16 users from sending direct messages and imposing automatic one-hour scrolling limits for those below the age of 18—a policy the company instituted just this month.
Chew’s comments are meant to head off a barrage of questions expected from Representatives on the committee about teen safety and the impact on mental health of the endless, personalized feed of videos the app serves up. That’s not the only contentious topic Chew expects to address. During his first testimony before Congress, Chew will also be queried on data protection policies and whether the app’s ownership by a Chinese tech company is a national security risk.
TikTok is fighting to convince lawmakers that the company should be allowed to continue operating in the U.S. The company has been told by President Joe Biden’s administration that it needs to separate from its parent, ByteDance, or face a potential ban. Meanwhile, four bills have been proposed in Congress that would limit the app in the U.S.
Read More: Why the U.S. and Other Countries Want to Ban or Restrict TikTok
“We spend a lot of time adopting measures to protect teenagers,” Chew will say during opening remarks. “Many of those measures are firsts for the social media industry.”
Chew also plans to outline TikTok’s $1.5 billion plan to protect American users by housing U.S. data in domestic servers owned by Oracle Corp., allow auditing of TikTok’s recommendation algorithm and installing an independent three-person board for its sensitive U.S. operations. Those measures go farther to protect user information than its competitors, the company has said.
“We have heard important concerns about the potential for unwanted foreign access to U.S. data and potential manipulation of the TikTok U.S. ecosystem,” Chew plans to say. “And our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize those concerns—it’s been to address them with real action. The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel.”
Those are familiar points that the company has made in the past, both publicly and in private meetings with lawmakers. The difference is they’re being delivered publicly by TikTok’s CEO himself, with a noticeably definitive tone.
It’s unclear how successful Chew will be in winning over the lawmakers in the room and the critics who will be listening. The Biden administration has already rejected the security plan, Bloomberg has reported. That decision comes as tension between the U.S. and China continues to escalate.
–With assistance from Anna Edgerton.
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