TikTok’s legal drama heats up

Yesterday, Congress had its first opportunity to grill TikTok CEO Shou Chew about the company’s relationship with its Chinese owner, ByteDance, its handling of US user data, and the risks it may pose to teens. And, well, we knew we were in for some spicy questions.

  • Former Vice President Mike Pence asked Chew when he was going to start getting paid for his data, Gus Bilirakis said the app was “literally leading to death,” and  Cathy McMorris Rodgers called it “a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party.”

To carry on in the US under ByteDance’s ownership—China is firmly opposed to a forced sale—TikTok outlined a plan to prevent the Chinese government from accessing US user data or meddling with the algorithm, but it has not been (and likely won’t be) approved. 

  • It’s worth noting TikTok doesn't actually operate inside China. ByteDance instead offers a similar version of the app to Chinese users, called Douyin. Even so, the FBI maintains that the Chinese government would have the ability to collect user data.

Why it matters: The app, with its over 150 million users in the US, “has become a battleground in a technological Cold War between the two countries, with US threats of a TikTok ban recalling how China has long blocked many American platforms,” per Axios. 

While it’s nice to see US lawmakers agree on something for the first time since 2016, banning TikTok won’t be easy. The American Civil Liberties Union says the move violates First Amendment rights, and influencers are storming the Capitol in their own trendy way.—SB