TikTok Executive Declined to Commit to Cut Off Americans’ Data to China

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A TikTok executive refused to make a commitment that the hugely popular short-video app would cut off flows of Americans’ data to China during the first U.S. Senate hearing since recent reports on its connections to Beijing.

TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas, along with executives from other U.S. big tech companies, testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Sept. 14. During the hearing, Pappas was hammered with a barrage of questions regarding Tiktok’s ties to Beijing and the potential for U.S. users’ data to be obtained by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which has become a bipartisan concern.

“Will TikTok commit to cutting off all data and data flows to China, China-based TikTok employees, ByteDance employees, or any other party in China that might have the capability to access information on U.S. users?” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the panel’s top Republican, asked.

The short-video app, which the Republican senator says nearly half of American teens are using, is founded and owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based tech giant. The ties have drawn concerns in the United States and elsewhere over whether its data can be accessed by the CCP, given that its laws compel companies to cooperate with security agencies when asked.

Officials and experts say the personal data harvesting from Americans could be used by the CCP to conduct espionage operations, or even shape their perceptions to be favorable to the Chinese regime.

“TikTok does not operate in China,” Pappas said, a reply she repeated more than once during the hearing.

Pressed by Portman about TikTok’s structure, Pappas said, “we do have employees based in China.”

“We also have very strict access controls around the type of data that they can access and where that data is stored, which is here in the United States,” she added. “We’ve also said under no circumstances would we give that data to China.”

By Dorothy Li

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