Lawyers grill TikTok executive about ties to China

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By georgeskef

Vanessa Pappas (TikTok’s chief operational officer) was asked if the company would ever give user data to Chinese officials.

On Wednesday, Senators quizzed a TikTok top executive about whether the viral video app could leak information to the Chinese government. This was the first time that a TikTok leader has been required to answer public questions about recent reports about its ties with Beijing.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee repeatedly questioned TikTok’s chief operational officer, Vanessa Pappas about whether they would ever give data about Americans to Chinese officials, or if the company would delete any content upon their request. ByteDance is TikTok’s Chinese owner.

Many regulators and lawmakers have expressed concern that ByteDance might hand over data on its users, many who are young, to China’s government or that Beijing could use it to spread propaganda.

However, Ms. Pappas, a former YouTube employee, insisted repeatedly that the app would not bow to Chinese demands. She stated that ByteDance had not sent any data to the Chinese Communist Party and that it was not located in China.

She said that there are employees in China. “We have very strict access controls regarding the data they can access and the storage location of that data, which is in the United States. We have also stated that we will not give this data to China.

After BuzzFeed News reported this summer that TikTok’s American data had been accessible in China, the criticism of TikTok gained momentum. Numerous regulators and lawmakers demanded answers from TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Z Chew, after the articles. Many also demanded that Google and Apple ban the download of the app from their digital storesfronts. They also called for an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. Some legislators have raised doubts about whether TikTok was honest in its previous conversation.

“I am very concerned about TikTok, and how China might be leveraging their influence in order to access the platform’s data on Americans,” said Senator Rob Portman, Ohio’s top Republican.

Despite its popularity, the app continues to gain in popularity. TikTok is used by more than one billion people. They flock to the app’s feed to find seemingly endless videos of content, from lip-syncing and makeup tutorials to political rants. Its popularity has allowed it to influence culture and helped make songs, movies, and books a hit.

ByteDance responded to these questions by racing to create a lobbying organization that can fight its critics. According to OpenSecrets (a research group that tracks money in politics), it spent approximately $5.1 million on federal lobbying. It has aggressively reacted to recent media reports and sends Congress staff positive news articles about the app.

On Wednesday, Capitol Hill saw some of the same resistance. The lawmakers also interviewed executives from Twitter, Facebook, and Meta’s parent company about extremists on the platforms. The senators and Ms. Pappas had some of the most heated exchanges.

Senator Jon Ossoff (Democrat of Georgia) asked, “In what manners does the government of China, if any, exert influence over TikTok’s corporat behavior or corporate policies?”

“In no way shape or form — period,” Ms.. Pappas stated.

Former President Donald J. Trump tried to pressure the app to sell to an American company. The app’s critics claim that President Biden hasn’t done enough to address their concerns. TikTok is currently negotiating privately with the Biden Administration over steps to mitigate government concerns.

Although it has started routing new traffic through servers managed by Oracle, an American cloud computing company. Some data is still stored on ByteDance servers located in Singapore and Virginia. According to the company, it will eventually erase all data stored on its servers.

Ms. Pappas attempted to discredit the app further from China by stating that ByteDance was a “distributed business” without a headquarters.

She stated that although ByteDance was founded in China, it does not have a headquarters to be considered a global company.

Many lawmakers were not satisfied by her answers. Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley repeatedly asked whether any TikTok employees are members of the Chinese Communist Party. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (Democrat from Arizona) said that she would follow up with Ms. Pappas regarding how the app handles biometric data. Mr. Portman expressed concern that Ms. Pappas wouldn’t agree to TikTok cutting off access to data for Chinese employees.

He said, “I am concerned that you are not able answer the question. Except to say that I will not make the promise to cut off this data to China.”

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