TikTok CEO to Congress: ‘ByteDance is not an agent of China’

TikTok's leader wants to address "misconceptions" about the app.


TikTok CEO Shou Chew is preparing to tell lawmakers that there are many “misconceptions” about the app, and that banning it will damage the United States economy. He’s also planning to tell members of Congress that concerns about parent company ByteDance, and its ties to China, are unfounded.

“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew says in written remarks released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee ahead of Thursday’s hearing on TikTok. The hearing, which will mark Chew’s first Congressional appearance, comes at a moment when the stakes couldn’t be higher for the company.

US officials recently told the company that TikTok could be banned in the United States if ByteDance doesn’t divest itself from the company. And members of both parties have supported bills that would empower President Joe Biden and others in his administration to ban the app.

Much of Chew’s written testimony is similar to arguments TikTok has been making for years. He details the app’s safety features, particularly those aimed at teens, as well as Project Texas, TikTok’s billion-dollar effort to lock down US users’ data. “Earlier this month, we began the process of deleting historical protected U.S. user data stored in non-Oracle servers; we expect this process to be completed later this year,” Chew writes. “Under this structure, there is no way for the Chinese government to access it or compel access to it.”

Chew’s written testimony also touches on revelations that four former ByteDance employees used TikTok to access the data of US journalists. The incident, which further fueled lawmakers’ concerns about TikTok, has reportedly prompted a DoJ investigation into the company. “I condemn this misconduct in the strongest possible terms,” Chew wrote, noting that the company is conducting an investigation with an outside law firm.

But most notable are Chew’s comments about China. He says that allegations that TikTok is “beholden to the Chinese government” are “emphatically untrue” and describes ByteDance as a “global enterprise” that was “founded by Chinese entrepreneurs.”

Despite those assurances, lawmakers are likely to grill Chew in depth about TikTok’s ties to ByteDance and China, and whether the company can be trusted to protect US users. At a previous hearing, when lawmakers heard from TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas, they were frustrated by her insistence that ByteDance was not a Chinese company, and pressed her about TikTok’s China-based employees. How Chew answers similar questions could directly affect the TikTok's future in the United States.