The fate of popular social media app TikTok in the United States could hinge on the testimony of Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday.
Chew will speak before Congress for the first time amid a renewed push to block the app in the United States over concerns its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance could be compelled to share data on U.S. users with Chinese authorities. The Biden administration recently issued ByteDance an ultimatum: sell TikTok or face a nationwide ban.
A large part of Chew’s testimony, published by the House committee in advance of the hearing, will be focused on the company’s efforts to secure the data of U.S. users. Chew will go in detail on “Project Texas,” the initiative at TikTok “dedicated to safeguarding both U.S. user data and U.S. national security interests,” according to his testimony.
The project has cost TikTok approximately $1.5 billion to date and includes the formation of a subsidiary, TikTok U.S. Data Security (TSDS), that has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and counting, according to Chew. It is designed to meet standards typically reserved for defense contractors.
USDS has controlled all access to systems containing new protected U.S. user data as of January, according to Chew. The company is working with Oracle to store U.S. user data and earlier this month began deleting historical protected U.S. user data stored in non-Oracle servers. The deletion is expected to be completed this year, according to Chew.
“When that process is complete, all protected U.S. data will be under the protection of U.S. law and under the control of the U.S.-led security team,” his testimony reads. “Under this structure, there is no way for the Chinese government to access it or compel access to it.”
Planned efforts as part of the project would include data access among USDS personnel being authorized by a U.S. government-approved third-party monitor and a third-party auditor, according to Chew. Employees of the subsidiary would report to an independent board approved by the government.
Whether the efforts will be enough to sway lawmakers largely against TikTok remains to be seen. Politics are also at play, with the app being utilized by more than 150 million U.S. citizens and particularly popular among younger users. Chew’s testimony is a gamble whether a public commitment to data transparency can turn the tide of the scrutiny the company has received for years.
“We continue to believe that imposing state-of-the-art access and security controls is the best path forward—not only for TikTok, but for the industry as a whole—and we remain committed to continued consultation and to finding innovative answers to what we firmly believe are solvable concerns,” he will say.
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