TikTok CEO appeals to app's 150 million US users for support ahead of key Congressional scrutiny

·3 min read

The chief executive of TikTok, the Chinese-owned short video app under political scrutiny in the US, has called on its 150 million American users to share their love for the product as he seeks to avoid a US ban ahead of a key Congressional hearing.

Chew Shou Zi, TikTok's Singaporean CEO, said that banning the app "could take TikTok away from all 150 million of" its US users, and asked them to let House Representatives know "what [they] love about TikTok," in a video clip published on Tuesday on TikTok's official account on the app.

The appeal comes just two days before Chew is set to testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, where lawmakers are expected to scrutinise data security and whether the app poses a national security threat. In the video clip Chew, who smiled and was casually dressed in jeans, said the company has arrived at a "a pivotal moment".

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Chew's video gathered more than 73,000 comments on the platform in 20 hours, with some users praising the app for helping them get through the pandemic, to learn gardening and parenting skills, and to make new friends.

However, other users commented on allegations that the app has been used to spy on certain people, and on its powerful recommendation algorithms that influence the kind of content people consume.

Tik Tok CEO Shou Chew speaks during the New York Times DealBook Summit in the Appel Room at the Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York City. Photo: Getty ImagesAFP alt=Tik Tok CEO Shou Chew speaks during the New York Times DealBook Summit in the Appel Room at the Jazz At Lincoln Center in New York City. Photo: Getty ImagesAFP>

The US Justice Department has started probes into TikTok and its Chinese owner ByteDance over possible surveillance of US citizens, including several journalists, The New York Times reported last week. Forbes reported in December that ByteDance tracked the personal data of multiple journalists of the publication. The Chinese company said at the time that it had sacked employees involved in the incident.

Faced with mounting concerns in the US over data security and TikTok's ties to China, the company has been playing up its business reach and impact on the local jobs market.

It disclosed on Tuesday that it has 150 million monthly active users (MAUs) in the US, up from a previous 100 million MAUs in 2020. Chew also said in his video that it employs 7,000 people in the country and some 5 million US companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, use the platform to reach their customers.

Chew is expected to tell US lawmakers that TikTok prioritises user safety and that user data is stored and controlled locally, according to a prepared statement published on the House Energy and Commerce Committee website.

In the statement, Chew describes spying allegations as "not accurate" and "misconceptions about the type of data that TikTok collects". "Current versions of the app do not collect precise or approximate GPS information from US users," according to the statement.

In advance of the hearing, Chew hired consulting firm SKDK - which has good connections with US President Joe Biden - and has held a series of closed-door meetings with multiple House representatives, according to US media outlets Politico and Forbes.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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