TikTok declines to testify to Congress about China ties

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Screenshot of TikTok’s official website. (Image credit: TikTok)

Leadership of short video app TikTok has declined to testify at a congressional hearing that will explore privacy and security concerns brought by social platforms and their ties to Beijing, The Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As TikTok’s influence becomes more widespread, suspicion about its content filtering and privacy protection practices has also began to emerge, prompting regulators around the world to scrutinize the platform for potential security risks.

  • Beijing-based Bytedance, the owner of TikTok, has denied all accusations and maintained that TikTok stores user data locally and does not censor content at the request of the Chinese government.

Details: The hearing was organized by Republican Senator John Hawley and is set for Tuesday.

  • In addition to covering privacy and security concerns, the session will also focus on China’s domestic censorship rules.
  • TikTok’s decision came just a day after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States opened a probe to investigate the platform’s acquisition of Musical.ly in 2017 for potential national security threats. The probe was requested by Senator Marco Rubio last month, who cited censorship concerns.
  • Executives from Apple, which Hawley has criticized for its business in China, have also declined to attend the hearing.

Context: US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Cotton have also asked the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Macguire, for a separate review of the potential national security risks posed by TikTok.

  • In a letter to Macguire, the two senators said that the number of downloads TikTok has in the US, which has reached 120 million according to research firm Sensor Tower, makes the app a big counter-intelligence threat.
  • The wave of investigations followed shortly after The Guardian reported on TikTok’s censorship guidelines, which involves removing videos deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government.