March 23, 2023 - TikTok CEO Shou Chew testifies before Congress

By Aditi Sangal, Brian Fung and Catherine Thorbecke, CNN

Updated 12:07 a.m. ET, March 24, 2023
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10:10 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

House committee chair to TikTok CEO: "Your platform should be banned"

From CNN's Brian Fung

(From House Committee on Energy and Commerce)
(From House Committee on Energy and Commerce)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, opened Thursday's hearing by tearing into TikTok.

"We do not trust TikTok to ever embrace American values, values for freedom, human rights and innovation," McMorris Rodgers said.

Addressing CEO Shou Chew, McMorris Rodgers said: "Your platform should be banned. I expect today you'll say anything to avoid this outcome.... We aren't buying it. In fact, when you celebrate the 150 million American users on TikTok, it emphasizes the urgency for Congress to act. That is 150 million Americans that the [Chinese Communist Party] can collect sensitive information on."

10:02 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

The congressional hearing for TikTok CEO has begun

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Chew has started.

Here's Chew's prepared remarks in full as posted by the committee ahead of the hearing.

10:08 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

TikTok CEO to tell lawmakers its parent company is "not an agent of China"

From CNN’s Brian Fung

TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew is pictured today before testifying before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing entitled "TikTok: How Congress can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms," as lawmakers scrutinize the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew is pictured today before testifying before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing entitled "TikTok: How Congress can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms," as lawmakers scrutinize the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

TikTok CEO Shou Chew plans to tell US lawmakers that the app's parent company, ByteDance, does not work for the Chinese government as he seeks to avert a US ban and reassure policymakers TikTok poses no national security threat.

"Let me state this unequivocally," Chew will say, according to a copy of his remarks released by a key House panel. "ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country." 

In his written remarks, which span nearly a dozen pages, Chew will include broad promises to protect US user data, to keep teens safe and to remain free from any government influence, mark the company's most visible attempt yet to shake off concerns about the potential for foreign spying that have spooked governments worldwide.

Chew will defend ByteDance's corporate structure and outline steps the company has taken — and plans to take — to resolve fears the Chinese government could gain access to TikTok user data through its potential influence over ByteDance. Among those steps is a vow to "firewall" US user data from "unauthorized foreign access."

ByteDance was founded by Chinese nationals but their shares now represent only 20% of the company's overall private ownership, according to Chew's testimony, with the rest comprised of employee stock and global institutional investors such as Blackrock and Sequoia. 

As part of a $1.5 billion security overhaul known as Project Texas, TikTok last month began deleting US user data from its proprietary servers based in Singapore and Virginia, Chew will say. The deletion process is expected to wrap up later this year. "Under this structure, there is no way for the Chinese government to access it or compel access to it," Chew will say.

New TikTok data created by US users is already being stored on cloud-based servers operated by the US tech giant Oracle, a change that took effect last month, according to the testimony. A recently formed TikTok subsidiary known as US Data Security will be solely responsible for handling Americans' personal information going forward, Chew will say. USDS already has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and the company plans to hire more. 

9:51 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

These Americans found a business and an audience on TikTok

From CNN's Catherine Thorbecke

TikTok was the top downloaded app in the United States in 2021 and 2022, according to data from analytics firm Sensor Tower. It now drives culinary habits (including a 200% jump in Feta sales at one grocery store after a baked pasta dish went viral); countless fashion and beauty crazes (from “skin cycling” to “glazed donut nails”), and propels new and old music (including the 1980s song “Break My Stride”) to the top of streaming charts.

A significant percentage of US politicians campaigned on the app ahead of the midterm elections last year. And legacy news organizations like the 176-year-old Associated Press have recently joined TikTok to reach new audiences.

So as lawmakers have renewed calls for tougher action to be taken with the app, some of its users who have built their livelihoods and found a sense of community on the app say they can’t imagine an America without it.

Callie Goodwin, of Columbia, South Carolina, posted her first video on the app to promote the small business she had started out of her garage during the pandemic.

Callie Goodwin.
Callie Goodwin. (Courtesy Callie Goodwin)

Inspired by a neighbor dropping off some brownies and a handwritten note for her while she was in quarantine, Goodwin decided to launch a pre-stamped greeting cards company called Sparks of Joy Co. A few months later, a TikTok influencer with some two million followers shared one of Goodwin’s cards on her account and Goodwin saw her business take off.

Goodwin told CNN that more than 90% of her orders currently come from people who discover her business through TikTok. “If it were to get banned, I would see business plummeting,” Goodwin told CNN. “I would lose most of my sales.”

Kahlil Greene, of New Haven, Connecticut: Known as the “Gen Z historian” across social media, he has amassed more than 580,000 followers on TikTok by documenting social and cultural issues. Greene’s following on TikTok even garnered the attention of the Biden administration. Greene was among the handful of TikTokers who were recently invited to a White House press briefing on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “So much of our culture and lives are driven by TikTok now that it’s not just something you can rip away easily,” he said.

Kahlil Greene.
Kahlil Greene. (Laurie Gomez)

At a time when major tech giants including Meta and Twitter are slashing staff, TikTok is still hiring American engineers. TikTok also appears be to taking aim at a chunk of Amazon’s e-commerce empire by seeking to build out its own warehousing network in the United States, a flurry of recent job postings indicates.

The challenge for the federal government “is it’s almost like TikTok is too big to fail,” said Rick Sofield, a partner at Vinson & Elkins L.L.P., who focuses on national security reviews, export controls and economic sanctions. “I think their minds are made up that ByteDance owning TikTok is a national security concern – the reason that we’ve been hung up is it’s too big to fail, and they’re trying to figure out a soft landing.”

Adrianna Wise, from Columbus, Ohio: TikTok hasn’t just been “essential” for building her bakery, it’s also been a critical tool that lets her reach young Black and brown people in her community and share knowledge and tips on how to build a business.

Adrianna Wise.
Adrianna Wise. (Courtesy Adrianna Wise)

“I see the impact that I’m having when I go out into the community and people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I follow you TikTok,’” Wise, who is co-founder of Coco’s Confectionary Kitchen, told CNN. ���I had a little girl a few weeks ago tell me, ‘It was just so cool because you have hair like me, and you’re on TikTok and you have so many views!’”

Hootie Hurley, a Los Angeles-based full-time creator with more than 1.3 million followers on TikTok, told CNN that he now makes most of his income through his TikTok following.

Hootie Hurley.
Hootie Hurley. (Courtesy Hootie Hurley)

While a ban would be “very scary” for him and his livelihood, Hurley said he and other TikTok creators are more focused on entertaining their audience than stressing about it – especially after weathering the first ban threats back in 2020.

“If the government ever did ban it,” he said, “everybody would actually be very, very surprised.”

9:42 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

Congresswoman questioning TikTok CEO says she has “real concerns” over China's access to data

From CNN's Robert North

Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell.
Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell. (CNN)

One of the members of Congress who will grill the TikTok CEO today told CNN that she has “real concerns” about how much data China already has on Americans through TikTok. 

Speaking to Julia Chatterley ahead of the hearing, Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell said, “All of us, I don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat, are very concerned about the kind of data that China already has through accessing TikTok."

She added that there was a “real problem” with privacy in the US and around the world with social media apps. 


9:47 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

TikTok doesn't operate in China, but there's a local equivalent

From CNN's Brian Fung

The download page for ByteDance Ltd.'s Douyin application on a smartphone in Beijing, China, in May 2021.
The download page for ByteDance Ltd.'s Douyin application on a smartphone in Beijing, China, in May 2021. (Yan Cong/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

As part of its case to distance itself from China, TikTok has said it does not operate in that country or offer its app to Chinese users.

That has raised questions about the difference between what TikTok users see in their feeds and what Chinese users see on Douyin, the local equivalent of TikTok from the same parent company, ByteDance.

Some public reports have suggested that content on Douyin is more educational and achievement-focused than what TikTok users tend to receive.

TikTok took a step in that direction earlier this month, announcing a third feed that would recommend science, technology, engineering and math content.

Security researchers who've studied both apps say that while TikTok and Douyin may offer different features, the underlying software is very similar, suggesting they are both developed from the same code base and tailored separately for specific markets.

9:31 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

Dozens of TikTok creators hold news conference to argue against a ban

From CNN's Catherine Thorbecke

 U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) speaks as Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) and supporters of TikTok listen during a news conference on March 22, in Washington, DC. TikTok CEO Shou Chew will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee tomorrow on whether the video-sharing app is safeguarding user data on the platform.
 U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) speaks as Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) and supporters of TikTok listen during a news conference on March 22, in Washington, DC. TikTok CEO Shou Chew will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee tomorrow on whether the video-sharing app is safeguarding user data on the platform. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Some TikTok creators spoke out against a potential US ban of the app in a news conference on Wednesday evening hosted by Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat from New York.

Standing in front of dozens of TikTok creators on Capitol grounds, Bowman called the attacks on TikTok unfair and defended how the app promotes free speech and community-building among Americans from diverse backgrounds. He called for “comprehensive legislation” that targets all social media platforms, not just TikTok.

“Let's not be racist towards China and express our xenophobia when it comes to TikTok," Bowman said, "because American companies have done tremendous harm to American people."

Bowman was joined at the conference by fellow Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Robert Garcia of California, as well the TikTok creators, some of whom TikTok may have flown in to Washington.

One of the creators, disability advocate Tiffany Yu, said that TikTok was what allowed her advocacy work to take off. “TikTok has really been a game-changer for me,” Yu said. “It's allowed me to reach new audiences, millions of people, unlock new ways to generate income to support my advocacy and empower an entire group of disability advocates to find their voice and build their careers.”

Yu added that TikTok has allowed her to secure “six figures of creator income” and that she now has a book coming out in 2024. So to Congress, I urge you to consider the impact that a ban on TikTok would have on advocates like myself,” she said. “A ban takes away the connections we've built, silencing communities that continue to be underrepresented and not given a voice.”

9:31 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

Here's what you need to know as the US government is once again threatening to ban TikTok

From CNN's Catherine Thorbecke

A TikTok booth at the 2021 Hangzhou International E-commerce Expo in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, in October 2021.
A TikTok booth at the 2021 Hangzhou International E-commerce Expo in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, in October 2021. (CFOTO/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

TikTok acknowledged to CNN that federal officials are demanding the app’s Chinese owners sell their stake in the social media platform, or risk facing a US ban of the app.

The new directive comes from the multiagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), following years of negotiations between TikTok and the government body. (CFIUS is the same group that previously forced a sale of LGBTQ dating app Grindr from Chinese ownership back in 2019.)

The ultimatum from the US government represents an apparent escalation in pressure from Washington as more lawmakers once again raise national security concerns about the app. Suddenly, TikTok’s future in the United States appears more uncertain – but this time, it comes after years in which the app has only broadened its reach over American culture.

Here’s what you should know.

Some in Washington have expressed concerns that the app could be infiltrated by the Chinese government to essentially spy on American users or gain access to US user data. Others have raised alarms over the possibility that the Chinese government could use the app to spread propaganda to a US audience. At the heart of both is an underlying concern that any company doing business in China ultimately falls under Chinese Communist Party laws. Other concerns raised are not unique to TikTok, but more broadly about the potential for social media platforms to lead younger users down harmful rabbit holes.

This echoes the saga TikTok already went through in the United States that kicked off in 2020, when the Trump administration first threatened it with a ban via executive order if it didn’t sell itself to a US-based company. Oracle and Walmart were suggested as buyers, social media creators were in a frenzy, and TikTok kicked off a lengthy legal battle against the US government. Some critics at the time blasted then-president Donald Trump’s crusade against the app as political theater rooted in xenophobia, calling out Trump’s unusual suggestion that the United States should get a “cut” of any deal if it forced the app’s sale to an American firm.

The Biden administration eventually rescinded the Trump-era executive order targeting TikTok, but replaced it with a broader directive focused on investigating technology linked to foreign adversaries, including China. Meanwhile, CFIUS continued negotiations to strike a possible deal that would allow the app to continue operating in the United States. Then scrutiny began to kick up again in Washington.

Lawmakers renewed their scrutiny of TikTok for its ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance, after a report last year suggested US user data had been repeatedly accessed by China-based employees. TikTok has disputed the report.

TikTok CEO Shou Chew responds: “The Chinese government has actually never asked us for US user data,” Chew said in rare remarks at a Harvard Business Review conference. “and we’ve said this on the record, that even if we where asked for that, we will not provide that.” Chew added that “all US user data is stored, by default, in the Oracle Cloud infrastructure” and “access to that data is completely controlled by US personnel.”

As for the concerns that the Chinese government might use the app to spew propaganda to a US audience, Chew emphasized that this would be bad for business, noting that some 60% of TikTok’s owners are global investors. “Misinformation and propaganda has no place on our platform, and our users do not expect that,” he said.

9:18 a.m. ET, March 23, 2023

Here are the countries that have banned TikTok on government devices

From CNN staff

A growing number of countries have banned TikTok from official government devices:

The United States: More than half of all US states have partially or fully banned TikTok from government devices, according to a CNN analysis, reflecting a wave of recent clampdowns by governors and state agencies targeting the short-form video app.

The United Kingdom: The social media app is not widely used by UK officials, according to a government announcement. “This is a proportionate move based on a specific risk with government devices,” UK Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden told lawmakers Thursday.

Canada: The ban is set to take effect on Tuesday. Government-issued devices will be blocked from downloading TikTok, and existing installations of the app will be removed, according to a statement by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. "Following a review of TikTok, the Chief Information Officer of Canada determined that it presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security," the statement said. 

Belgium: After an analysis from the country's state security VSSE, the national security council has temporarily banned federal government employees from installing TikTok on their devices, according to Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s office. “We should not be naive: TikTok is a Chinese company that is now obliged to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services. That is the reality. Banning its use on federal service devices is common sense,” De Croo said in a statement. The ban will last six months after which it will be reassessed, the statement from Belgium’s Prime Minister’s office said.

The Netherlands: The government said its decision follows the advice of AVID, its general intelligence and security service, which states that there is an increased espionage risk. The Dutch Government said in a statement that it is working on facilitating mobile devices set-up in “a way that only pre-approved apps, software and/or functionalities can be installed and used,” adding that exceptions are allowed “when such an application is or may be necessary for the performance of a primary task of a government organization.”

New Zealand: Based on the advice of cyber security experts, TikTok will be removed from all devices (of parliamentary staff and members) that have access to the parliamentary network, Parliamentary Service Chief Executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero said.

The European Union has also done the same: TikTok is banned on official devices over security concerns across all three of the bloc's main institutions — the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council. The parliament also “strongly recommended” to its members and staff to remove TikTok from their personal devices.

India banned TikTok in 2020 as its tensions with China escalated, saying they pose a “threat to sovereignty and integrity.” This move forced ByteDance to lay off some of its workers in the country.