After more than five hours of testimony, we are largely back where we were when the hearing started. US lawmakers remain convinced that TikTok is an urgent threat to national security; TikTok made no new major commitments beyond what it has already promised to do to safeguard user data; and a nationwide ban still seems very much a live possibility.
Few new facts were uncovered in the hearing, but lawmakers took every opportunity to accuse TikTok of actively spying on US users; of failing to moderate content in the way that Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app, does under China’s strict internet censorship regime; and of effectively being an arm of the Chinese government.
“What you’re saying about Project Texas just doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Rep. Angie Craig, referring to the company’s program to wall off US user data. “My constituents are concerned that TikTok and the Chinese Communist Party are controlling their data and seeing our own vulnerabilities…. What you’re doing down in Texas is all well and good, but it is not enough to be convinced that our privacy is not at risk.”
TiKTok CEO Shou Chew sought to provide nuanced answers and at times attempted to correct lawmakers on misperceptions about the company and its parent — but those responses were often interpreted as bad-faith evasiveness.
It was, in other words, a textbook congressional grilling of a technology CEO.
In a statement after the hearing, TikTok said its CEO “came prepared to answer questions from Congress, but, unfortunately, the day was dominated by political grandstanding that failed to acknowledge the real solutions already underway.”
If there was any progress made on Thursday, it was reflected in the breadth of support lawmakers showed for a comprehensive, bipartisan privacy proposal that would create the nation’s first-ever federal privacy right — a years-long dream of privacy advocates.
Such a law would govern all businesses’ handling of American data in the United States, covering not just TikTok but also other social media companies, data brokers and more. A comprehensive federal privacy law, many members of the panel said, is the only way to ensure the long-term safety of Americans’ personal information.
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