- Written by James Clayton and Ben Derico
- BBC News, San Francisco
On Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will open a lion’s mouth and stick its head in.
He’s testifying in the US Congress for the first time, and it’s scary.
The future of the popular video-sharing app in the US is at stake.
“I think there’s a real risk that if viewership doesn’t go well…it could have a significant impact on the future of TikTok,” said Chris Stockell-Walker, creator of the TikTok Boom.
Chew will likely face a barrage of questions about TikTok’s relationship with China, the data it collects and what it does with it.
He will also be asked why ByteDance employees spied on so many journalists – something TikTok has already admitted.
User data is safe — out of the reach of the Chinese government, Qiu will say.
He knows that politicians on all sides want to sell the platform — or ban it outright in the US.
“He’s going to the lion’s den,” said Mr. Stokel-Walker.
Mr. Qiu will have to perform for a lifetime. Indeed, keen observers noticed a change in tactics from the Singaporeans.
The TikTok boss, who has held various top positions in the financial world, usually wears a jacket and tie.
But on Tuesday, TikTok posted a very different look.
Instead of a suit, he wears a white T-shirt and hoodie, the uniform of the apathetic founder of Tech.
The 40-year-old also suddenly spoke like a teenager – speaking of being “very excited”.
“I think it’s kind of trying to take away from its regular tech sibling,” said Caitlin Chen of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank.
“He was really starting to gain public recognition, especially as we got closer to this hearing.”
The Singaporean has generally kept a low profile since taking over TikTok in 2021.
However, this approach appears to have changed. Tik Tok is fighting for its life, and Mr. Chew knows it.
The big problem facing TikTok in the US and Europe is that it is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance.
And in China, there are specific laws that require companies to provide information to the Chinese Communist Party upon request.
TikTok keeps large amounts of data about its users, including location information and biometric data.
For years, TikTok has argued that it will never pass on user information.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on lobbying efforts and strategies to appease governments.
The “Texas Project” is at the center of his attempt to persuade US lawmakers.
It is the company’s obligation to store American data in the United States – on servers operated by an American company – Oracle.
So far, the company says it has spent $1.5 billion on the project – and describes it as a “firewall” that protects data from foreign governments.
TikTok hoped this would appease politicians of all stripes.
Last year, Chu wrote to politicians saying he believed the project would “protect user data and the national security interests of the United States.”
But unfortunately for TikTok, Project Texas has been viewed with suspicion by both Republicans and Democrats.
For many American politicians, as long as TikTok has a Chinese owner, it will be considered suspicious.
Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray made no secret of his comments on the platform.
It is ultimately a tool under the control of the Chinese government. To me, that screams national security concerns.
For most US lawmakers, TikTok would be a much nicer platform if it wasn’t owned by a Chinese company.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Biden administration sought to sell the company for this reason.
This is not what ByteDance wants. TikTok has huge potential. And besides, the Chinese company does not want to sell its largest assets just because American politicians want it.
This is the background to Thursday’s congressional hearing.
We already have a pretty good idea of what Mr. Qiu will say from his TikTok briefings.
He will argue that 150 million American users stand to lose if the platform is banned — and that thousands of small businesses depend on the platform.
And he will dispute the idea that ByteDance is owned by China, saying the company has many international investors.
It will also argue that Chinese laws cannot force ByteDance to share US data — as TikTok is a US-based company, with its data stored in the US.
But these sessions often make headlines on one or two specific exchanges.
Mark Zuckerberg’s famous 2018 Senate hearing is often remembered for a big question posed by Senator Richard Durbin.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing the hotel you stayed at last night?” ” He said.
The Facebook boss looked visibly uncomfortable before saying, “No.”
“I think that’s what … your right to privacy is all about,” said the senator.
These are the similar questions that Xu Ziqiu should fear the most.