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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is fighting to prove app is not a security threat


After months of digital silence, TikTok’s chief govt Shou Zi Chew is making ready for the combat of his skilled life, assembly with members of Congress and state governors as a part of an aggressive push to show the wildly standard Chinese language-owned app is just not a nationwide safety menace.

“There are greater than 100 million voices on this nation, and I believe it’ll be an actual disgrace if our customers world wide will not be capable of hear them anymore,” Chew stated Tuesday throughout an unique interview with The Washington Submit, referring to the variety of U.S. TikTok customers.

“We now have to have robust conversations on: Who’s utilizing it now? What sort of worth does it carry to them? What does it imply if we simply, like, rip it out of their arms?” he added. “I don’t take this dialog of ‘let’s simply ban TikTok’ very flippantly. … I don’t assume it’s a trivial query. I don’t assume it ought to be one thing that’s determined, you recognize, in 280 characters.”

The married father of two, a Harvard Enterprise College graduate based mostly in his native Singapore, spent Tuesday within the halls of Congress attempting to steer lawmakers that the corporate is just not run — as some argue — by Chinese language authorities lackeys, propagandists or spies.

It’s unclear whether or not the technique will repay. After he met with Sen. Michael F. Bennet, the Colorado Democrat’s workers caught TikTok officers unexpectedly by asserting that, whereas the senator appreciated Chew’s time, he remained unconvinced, arguing that TikTok was “an unacceptable danger to U.S. nationwide safety” and threatened a “toxic affect” on American teenagers.

TikTok stated it respectfully disagrees with Bennet’s characterization of its firm and can proceed to work on educating members of Congress and constructing belief.

TikTok is just not with out pals in the US. Chew arrived in Washington this week after attending the Tremendous Bowl, the place a ByteDance official stated he was a visitor of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The league is a major promotional partner of the app, the place movies of massive performs are viral and closely promoted, together with by the NFL’s 10 million-follower official account.

Chew even broadcast the halftime present in a TikTok video: “Superb @rihanna !,” he stated.

An NFL spokesman didn’t dispute Chew’s attendance however stated he was not within the commissioner’s suite. Nonetheless, that’s higher than the welcome he’s getting in Washington. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who met with Chew this week, informed The Submit he did so “as a courtesy” however that his perception that TikTok represented a novel menace to American pursuits was utterly unchanged.

And what was as soon as a Republican-led campaign towards TikTok has attracted some Democratic endorsement. Senate Majority Chief Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose daughter works for Fb, stated Sunday {that a} TikTok ban “ought to be checked out.”

“I don’t assume there’s something they will say,” stated Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “It’s all about what they do, and what they do is fairly alarming.”

How TikTok ate the internet

TikTok’s executives had for years hoped the corporate’s backroom negotiations with nationwide safety officers — and its viral-dance-filled self-promotion because the “final sunny nook of the web” — would neutralize suspicions in Washington over the app’s China-based possession.

However with criticism heating up, Chew has launched a room-to-room offensive on Capitol Hill, assembly with federal and state lawmakers, journalists and assume tanks in an effort to steer critics that issues about knowledge privateness and censorship will be resolved with out the nuclear possibility of a nationwide ban.

Requested in the event that they’d gained any allies in Washington, TikTok officers this week prompt Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who’d lately provided some mild support of the corporate’s “working with U.S. intelligence” on “correct precautions.” Booker’s representatives didn’t reply to requests for remark.

“We perceive we begin from a spot of belief deficit,” Chew stated, “and that belief is just not gained by one transfer, one silver bullet, one assembly.”

Chew stated he’s hopeful that members of Congress will come round to see TikTok as lots of its customers do, a spot for creativity and free expression, and acknowledge that a few of their anxieties about on-line knowledge or teenage use relate to greater points that ought to be resolved by industry-wide coverage as a substitute of a single-app ban.

However he stated he has additionally needed to navigate discussions with individuals who have by no means used TikTok however nonetheless argue in tweets and TV interviews that the app is an insidious menace — and that the corporate’s arguments are compromised, silly or naive.

Lots of the suspicions he’s tried to handle, he stated, have been “misinformed” or based mostly on “misrepresentations.” TikTok officers have additionally been pissed off by what they really feel is unfair affect from TikTok’s prime competitor, the Fb and Instagram mother or father firm Meta, which has funded a secret media and lobbying campaign to painting the app as a foreign-owned menace to American youth.

“We ought to be competing on product and consumer expertise,” Chew stated. “That’s the precise solution to compete.”

TikTok is a non-public firm with main Western traders, practically a dozen worldwide places of work and hundreds of American staff. However its mother or father firm, ByteDance, was created by Chinese language founders and operates a central workplace in Beijing — a proven fact that U.S. lawmakers have argued may go away them susceptible to China’s authoritarian model of on-line surveillance and media management.

The U.S. authorities has shared no proof that the Chinese language Communist Occasion has mined TikTok’s knowledge for data on American customers or warped its advice algorithm to attain political factors. However each issues have turn into outstanding themes of criticism within the U.S., resulting in common assaults on the app in Washington and more than two dozen state-device bans.

TikTok officers have began making ready Chew for his first main congressional look subsequent month earlier than the Home Power and Commerce Committee, and most count on he can be grilled relentlessly. His deputy, chief working officer Vanessa Pappas, sat for a fiery listening to in September throughout which Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) labeled TikTok a “strolling safety nightmare.”

As Washington wavers on TikTok, Beijing exerts control

TikTok says it has spent $1.5 billion — and expects to spend one other $700 million a yr — standing up a company restructuring plan, generally known as Mission Texas, that may topic the corporate to a stage of U.S. authorities affect and oversight unmatched by any of its American rivals.

TikTok’s U.S. operations can be sequestered in a subsidiary, generally known as TikTok U.S. Information Safety, whose leaders can be vetted by the U.S. authorities and whose U.S. consumer knowledge can be intently monitored and firewalled.

Some measures have already been launched, together with the opening final month of a code-review heart in Columbia, Md., the place officers from the Texas-based tech large Oracle can examine TikTok’s algorithm and supply code for potential flaws. TikTok officers have argued to lawmakers that this model of intense authorities monitoring and compliance is extra generally seen with army or protection contractors, not social media apps.

However the Committee on International Funding in the US, the cross-government panel generally known as CFIUS that has led negotiations between TikTok and the U.S. for 3 years, has but to approve the restructuring package deal or publicly state any excellent issues.

Chew stated TikTok gave CFIUS a full blueprint of the proposal in August and that the corporate is “nonetheless ready for suggestions.” A CFIUS official didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Some in Washington level to dangers like a Chinese language legislation that permits the federal government to compel tech corporations handy over consumer knowledge to help with “nationwide intelligence” work.

Chew stated the Chinese language authorities has by no means requested for U.S. consumer knowledge, and that, “even when they did, we consider we don’t have to present it to them as a result of U.S. consumer knowledge is topic to U.S. legislation.”

However critics corresponding to Klon Kitchen, a senior fellow on the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, argue that TikTok’s promise is a meaningless “smokescreen,” and that solely a whole divestiture from Chinese language possession can tackle the issues.

“They don’t need to be malevolent actors, they merely need to be compliant,” Kitchen stated. “And for Chinese language corporations, both you’re compliant otherwise you’re out of enterprise.”

Is TikTok really giving your data to China?

TikTok’s proprietor, ByteDance, additionally undermined its argument in December when it announced it had fired 4 staff for attempting to make use of TikTok knowledge — together with IP addresses, which might present tough estimates of places — to search out journalists’ sources.

Chew referred to as the occasion “very disturbing” and blamed it on a “utterly misguided” group of staff performing with out company approval. He famous that the chief of the group was an American and stated the corporate had began restructuring its internal-audit workforce to stop it from taking place once more.

“We didn’t wish to conceal this or sweep it below the rug,” he stated. “Unhealthy actors and cases like this actually form of erode all of the work that we have now completed.”

Chew, a former Fb intern and ByteDance finance chief who turned TikTok’s CEO in 2021, stated he’s in control of all of TikTok’s strategic selections. However ByteDance has performed an lively function in TikTok’s shift to defend itself extra aggressively in Washington, Chew stated, and he couldn’t present a particular occasion on which he had pushed again towards a decree from ByteDance’s management.

Chew stated he routinely updates ByteDance chief and co-founder Liang Rubo on “sure subjects that I believe he could have an attention-grabbing viewpoint, simply to verify the attitude is full.”

Chew’s conferences come at a tense second for U.S.-China relations as lawmakers talk about how to answer a Chinese spy balloon, whose presence some critics used to spotlight TikTok’s potential for spying or propaganda — regardless that the app shared hours of colorfully subversive movies associated to the episode, many from an unfiltered American point of view.

“We can’t be faraway from the bigger dialogue. However that’s probably not our enterprise. … It’s a distraction,” Chew stated. “We’re not the primary nor the final firm to be related to all types of unfair analogies.”

Although an govt on par with Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, Chew stays virtually fully unknown, each on Capitol Hill and in most of the people. His TikTok account (“shou.time”) has 17,000 followers and options principally touristy model movies of attending the Met Gala, posing for photos with celebrities such as Bill Murray, and visiting TikTok’s places of work in Los Angeles and New York. (In a video styled after TikTok’s “teenage dirtbag” viral problem, Shou, 40, confirmed photographs of himself as a younger man rising up in Singapore.)

His public persona may change after subsequent month’s listening to — together with, presumably, to cement him because the face of an organization some in Congress argue may warp the brains of American youth. However he stated he’s hopeful that lawmakers will at some point see his facet.

“I’m a really large believer that, finally, information win,” he stated. “Finally, persons are rational. Sure, it can really feel uncomfortable at occasions. However I believe we’re trending in the precise course by bringing extra information to the desk.”

Cristiano Lima contributed to this report.

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