Republicans and Democrats Unite Against TikTok

“You have unified Republicans and Democrats – if only for a day,” Rep. August Pflugar told TikTok's CEO.

Written by Hudson Crozier

Thursday: House Democrats and Republicans grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the app's ties to China and data privacy concerns, which are at the center of calls to restrict or ban it in the U.S. The committee hearing was the most high-profile chance yet for TikTok to build trust, and it didn't go well. Most lawmakers who questioned Chew appeared either unconvinced by his answers or adversarial from the start.

On China: Despite Chew's repeated denials that the Chinese Communist Party controls TikTok, a lawmaker showed the committee an internal memo in which TikTok told employees to publicly "downplay” its parent company ByteDance for its ties to China. Chew said he had never seen the memo. Even as Chew touted his “Project Texas” initiative to relocate user data to the U.S., a Texas legislator took offense to the name, saying, “we stand for freedom and transparency and we don't want your project.”

On user privacy: Another lawmaker reminded Chew of when TikTok had to fire four employees for tracking the locations of journalists, asking if other Americans could be subject to similar “surveillance.” Chew said he disagreed with “the characterization [that] it's ‘surveillance.'” However, the Justice Department and the FBI have been investigating TikTok since the journalists were spied on.

Big picture: TikTok faces an onslaught of opposition from the U.S. government that shows no signs of wavering, including in Congress, where there are three proposals to ban or restrict it. President Joe Biden, who has already banned TikTok from government devices, recently told its Chinese owners to sell their stake or face further action. The Chinese government says it won't allow the sale, echoing its previous response to a similar ultimatum from former President Donald Trump.