The ongoing feud between TikTok and the U.S. government is reaching its climax. In February, House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) has plans to vote on a bill that would ban the ByteDance-owned app in the United States. Then, in March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will head to Washington to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee (HECC).
Efforts to ban TikTok in the U.S. date back to the Trump Administration. Those calls have intensified in recent months as politicians — most of them Republicans — have argued that Chinese officials can use the app to track U.S. citizens.
Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), who chairs the HFAC, cited security concerns as he announced the upcoming committee vote. “The concern is that this app gives the Chinese government a back door into our phones,” McCaul told Bloomberg.
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Toward the end of 2022, a wave of governors issued TikTok bans on state-owned devices. Their efforts received widespread support, with European leaders cheering on U.S. lawmakers. Democratic governors and administrators at public universities have extended TikTok bans to their own jurisdictions. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) then introduced a bipartisan bill that seeks to ban the controversial app.
TikTok has attempted to appease naysayers by cutting a deal with the White House. That effort, dubbed Project Texas, would cement TikTok’s American operations by establishing a stateside team that would oversee U.S. user data. Though TikTok has made progress with the Biden Administration, its crucial agreement has not yet been approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
Chew’s HECC testimony will be a chance for the TikTok chief to make a case for his embattled company. The hearing, set for March 23, will be the first time a TikTok CEO has appeared before Congress. TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas joined a tech summit on Capitol Hill last September, though her appearance proved contentious. Meanwhile, Chew has courted the European Commission through a string of meetings.
“TikTok has knowingly allowed the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to access American user data,” said HECC chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), in a statement. “Americans deserve to know how these actions impact their privacy and data security, as well as what actions TikTok is taking to keep our kids safe from online and offline harms.”
To counter the claims of its critics, TikTok has argued that kicking it out of the U.S. would not do much to make American data more secure. A spokesperson for the app described a total ban as “a piecemeal approach to national security and a piecemeal approach to broad industry issues like data security, privacy, and online harms.”
If a TikTok ban does get approved, the U.S. government will make enemies of the millions of young users who entertain themselves on the app. The politician leading the upcoming vote is aware that he could become a Gen Z villain. “I have kids,” McCaul told Bloomberg, “and they said, ‘Dad, this won’t make you popular.'”