TikTok CEO Shou Chew ‘disagrees’ app is 'spying' on U.S. users

Yahoo Finance’s Rachelle Akuffo joins the Live show from Washington, D.C. to discuss key takeaways from TikTok CEO Shouh Chew’s testimony before Congress.

Video Transcript

JARED BLIKRE: TikTok CEO Shou Chew clashed earlier with committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers when asked about the app spying on US-- excuse me, on US users. Let's take a listen.

- TikTok spied on American journalists. Can you say with 100% certainty that neither ByteDance nor TikTok employees can target other Americans with similar surveillance techniques?

SHOU CHEW: Chairwoman, first of all, I disagree with the characterization that it is spying. It was an internal investigation.

- Surveillance? Yes or no? Can you do surveillance of other Americans?

SHOU CHEW: We will protect the US user data and file it from all foreign access. It's a commitment that we've given to the committee.

- So I guess, my question is, can-- I want you to-- I wanted to hear you say with 100% certainty that neither ByteDance, nor TikTok employees, can target other Americans with similar surveillance techniques, as you did with the journalists.

SHOU CHEW: Again, I don't disagree with the characterization of surveillance, and we have given our commitments, Chair Rogers. The four commitments I think is our commitment that we will not be influenced by any government.

JARED BLIKRE: Rachelle Akuffo is at the Capitol now where that hearing is ongoing. Rachelle, I've noticed people sitting in that chair over the years, they don't like to answer in yes or no, even if they're prompted. But what's the latest? What's going on down there?

RACHELLE AKUFFO: I mean, as you mentioned there, obviously, trying to get him cornered into these yes or no answers, trying to get something like could you be 100% sure of some of these accusations that are being levied against him? Some of the responses, I'll get back to you. Some of them, obviously, he wanted to expound on the answers. Lawmakers really not giving him much wiggle room.

One of the ongoing themes we continue to hear throughout today's testimony is this issue of ByteDance's ownership, of TikTok's ownership, how much of a role ByteDance has had in the testimony today in preparation for it, as well as the ownership structure. So I want to toss to the sound bite here regarding the Chinese government and how he laid it out in his testimony this morning.

SHOU CHEW: ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government. It's a private company. 60% of the company is owned by global institutional investors. 20% is owned by the founder, and 20% owned by employees around the world. ByteDance has five board members. Three of them are American.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: But it was a very, very hard sell for lawmakers. They still kept honing in on what happens to this data, where is it going, and if they were being compelled by the Chinese government, would they be able to say no? A lot of lawmakers saying China seems to think it would be able to compel TikTok to turn over US data.

I also want to get to another powerful part of the testimony today because obviously the full name of this hearing today, How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children From Online Harms. And I will say Representative Bill [INAUDIBLE] talked about TikTok challenges and actually played a very disturbing video showing some of the feeds, some of the feed that came up for 16-year-old Chase, who was a teen from New York who committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. And they showed a clip of some of the images and the videos that he was looking at.

And the representative really wanted Shou Chew to talk about the algorithms and whether he would take full responsibility for them in prioritizing this sort of content, which he says we don't promote harmful content. Some of it might be inherently un-harmful, for example. He gave the example of someone looking for videos about running 100 miles, which in itself isn't inherently harmful, but if the wrong person looks at it, if it's someone who perhaps is predispositioned to a condition that might make them exercise more or feel bad about their physical appearance, that, yes, it could lead down that road. But you could definitely tell lawmakers really not happy with a lot of the answers they're getting and really wanting more certainty at this point as well, Jared.

JARED BLIKRE: All right, really appreciate that, and we're going to keep you down there and check in with you later in the day.