Transcript for TikTok CEO promises to prioritize safety, firewall protection from foreign access
- TikTok CEO on Capitol Hill today trying to convince Congress the app is safe and secure. The Biden administration and several lawmakers have threatened to ban the Chinese-owned app over security concerns. And the CEO sought to address those earlier.
- We have heard important concerns about the potential for unwanted foreign access to US data and potential manipulation of the TikTok US ecosystem. Our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize any of these concerns. We have addressed them with real action.
DIANE MACEDO: Some influencers and some House Democrats, three of them, are pushing to save TikTok amid these hearings. Jay O'Brien joins us now from Capitol Hill, along with ABC News contributor, Sirius XM Radio host, and Google tech scholar, Mike Muse. Jay, I want to start with you. The CEO was asked about whether the Chinese Communist Party could use this company for promotion or censorship. What did you make of his response?
- Well, all of this goes back to those two main concerns we've heard lawmakers express about TikTok. One is data privacy and the misusing of US user data, and the other is misinformation, the idea that TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, could propagate misinformation or repress certain ideas that the Chinese Communist Party doesn't like. There have been accusations that TikTok does that already, but TikTok denies that, saying that it's not tied to any company's-- or any country's influence, et cetera, et cetera.
What we saw from lawmakers today is drilling down on TikTok's algorithm, who has control over the algorithm, who decides what goes into the algorithm, the algorithm, by the way, being that thing that decides what videos go to the top of your TikTok feed and which don't. That was something that we saw Shou Chew, who's the TikTok CEO, get pressed on. Do Chinese employees, ByteDance employees in China have any kind of influence over that algorithm? He says it's a global effort to build that algorithm.
The biggest takeaway we've seen so far is that the TikTok CEO's assurances that they protect data privacy and that they do not have any kind of influence from the Chinese government don't seem to be breaking through with lawmakers. We've seen Republicans and Democrats alike say that their fears are not assuaged from what they've heard so far from the CEO, Diane.
DIANE MACEDO: Mike, Chew has been asked-- among other things, he's been asked a lot about how the company gathers user data, selling user data. They're far from the only company that does either of these two things, if they do. So why the focus here on TikTok?
- The focus on TikTok is because-- what's important about this hearing is that we have to be careful and the elected officials have to be mindful as well about they don't lose the American public's attention, and also to the direction of this. And what I've been hearing so far in the hearing is a lot of conflating the issues of privacy, security, and data. The US has ability to be in partnerships with our tech companies, where, in China, the companies there have such-- the government has such control over their companies. In the US, we're able and the Congress can demand through subpoena sometimes users to get information on data in order for hearings or special investigations.
That was all fine and good until TikTok came along and had such-- a billion users with so much American data that could fall into the hands of Chinese government because of the type of control that the Chinese government has at hand. And so this is why this issue is so big. It's more about national security. And so what I'm hoping to hear as we go further in this hearings is that Congress is more specific in their questioning to the CEO about it being a national security so that the American public isn't confused about what the issue is at hand.
Let the officials have to worry a lot about other big tech platforms like Instagram, like Twitter when it comes to privacy data and privacy policies. But, Diane, the US has not come to a conclusion on our privacy policies when it comes to Americans use of data and whether or not data can be sold.
- Mike, I want to follow up because he made a series of promises in his opening statements. Two big ones seem to be a firewall around American user data and third-party monitors to look at things like the code in the app, make sure everything is secure. Should that be enough? What do you think?
- It's not going to be enough, in particular for the American government, as these elected officials are really looking at America's national security. There is legislation that's being proposed for Project Texas for a lot of the servers to be migrated over to a facility in Texas to store our data. The concern is some of the new use-- old users and original user of TikTok, their data will still be stored in TikTok overseas.
And that is what is the most concern when it comes to the national security issue of American's data still being held overseas that the Chinese government can have access to. And so the firewall, the third party in part can be a solution, but it still doesn't solve for the other Americans' data that would still be housed under the old system of the servers.
DIANE MACEDO: Jay, he was also asked about TikTok being used as surveillance on Americans. Where does that come from because there is an investigation going on related to that? So what do we know about that so far?
- Yeah, sources tell ABC News that the Department of Justice is looking into this issue. A lot of it ties back to the case of "Forbes'" journalists who say that TikTok was used to monitor their IP addresses, their locations to try to see if those journalists met with ByteDance employees, which is the parent company of TikTok. That is an example in real time of one of the things lawmakers say that they are concerned about, which is that TikTok employees misusing user data and that the larger issue, the fact that TikTok is owned by ByteDance which is a Chinese company, means that the Chinese government could-- and make sure, it could force ByteDance to hand over that user data.
There are laws-- laws in China that require Chinese companies to do stuff like that if the government request it. TikTok, as you just heard, has said that they are attempting to wall off their data with what's known as Project Texas to try to make sure that foreign employees do not have access to US user data. But even when Project Texas gets fully up and running and encompasses all ongoing user data, something TikTok says is a goal, we've heard from lawmakers in this hearing right now, Anna Eshoo for instance, who said that they believe the idea that Chinese employees couldn't gain access to that data-- and here's her direct quote-- "is preposterous." So again, is this enough to convince lawmakers that TikTok is a safe app as it claims? As of right now, we have not seen any indications that TikTok is making any headway there, Diane.
DIANE MACEDO: So, Jay, what can Congress do here? If they don't think this is enough, what are the potential outcomes?
- Well, there are a number of different options on the table right now. There are bills in Congress to just straight up ban TikTok. And then there are other bills to give the administration stronger legal footing, the Biden administration, the executive branch stronger legal footing to take action against apps like TikTok, not just TikTak-- TikTok but other apps that might be like it in the future.
There is a tough legal landscape to ban an app like TikTok. There are things called the Berman amendments, which, long story short, makes it harder to regulate the import of information, and TikTok has argued that they're covered under that anyway. The long story short is there are moves in Congress to do something about TikTok. They have bipartisan support. And coming out of this hearing, we'll see how that impacts that.
- We sure will. Mike Muse, Jay O'Brien from Capitol Hill. Thank you both.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.