TikTok CEO testifies amid growing calls to ban app

ABC News’ Jay O’Brien and Javed Ali, a former Trump administration official and cybersecurity expert, break down testimony from the CEO of the social media app TikTok on Capitol Hill Thursday.
10:23 | 03/23/23

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Transcript for TikTok CEO testifies amid growing calls to ban app
- TikTok CEO getting grilled by lawmakers on the Hill, defending his app, TikTok-- they're defending his app, TikTok, rather, as Congress floats the idea of banning it. Lawmakers addressing security, spying, even suicide, as Shou Zi Chew tells Congress his company is working to protect user data. This comes as the popular app and its parent company, Chinese-owned ByteDance, are under intense scrutiny for its use and alleged abuse of user data. - Our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize any of these concerns. We have addressed them with real action. Now, that's what we've been doing for the last two years-- building what amounts to a firewall that seals off protected US user data from unauthorized foreign access. The bottom line is this-- American data, stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel. - Our Jay O'Brien is on the Hill there, taking it all in. So Jay, how is Chew doing so far, you think? - Well, he's got to convince lawmakers on this committee and lawmakers across Capitol Hill that TikTok is a safe app. Their concerns are twofold. One is over data privacy, the fact that TikTok is an app that's owned by a Chinese company and collects a lot of user data, and also misinformation-- the notion that TikTok algorithm could promote or downplay videos that the Chinese government doesn't like. TikTok denies all of that. But we heard from lawmakers in both parties in this committee-- rare bipartisan agreement-- that they are not buying a lot of TikTok's explanations here. One point that's worth-- that underscores all of this is an exchange between TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California. Shou Zi Chew says, in essence, that TikTok employees don't have access to user data and doesn't know of any instance in which they would share that with the Chinese government, and Anna Eshoo-- and the direct quote is-- calls that "preposterous." So that is the environment that all of this is playing out in that hearing as you're looking at on your screen, resuming now after a recess-- Shou Zi Chew trying to show lawmakers that he believes TikTok is a secure app, and bipartisan agreement, it seems, from a lot of members of this committee-- that they are just not buying that, Kyra. - Right. And just when you heard the examples that were brought up, I mean, talking about suicide and our children and the bullying and all the things that we have been covering stories on, that have been tied to TikTok. You've also had these TikTokers and influencers who are on the Hill for the hearing as well, sticking to their free speech argument. - Yeah. TikTokers are in that hearing room right now. They came to the Hill yesterday. This is part of a larger effort from TikTok to push lawmakers against banning their app. A lot of these TikTokers telling us and telling lawmakers yesterday, when they were lobbying, that this app is beloved to them. It changed their lives. Here's what a few of them said to us. - To preemptively try to ban an app that means so much to so many people-- there's a disconnect there. - These are real American lives that you're not listening to, that you're not seeing. You're not seeing me. You're not seeing my value and what I bring to this country. - So I'm asking our politicians, don't take away the community that we've all built, a community that laughs, that loves, and supports each other in a way that nothing else can. We can solve the issues without taking away something so precious to us all. - At one point, we were talking with a TikToker in view of the Capitol dome, and she turned around, and she shouted at the Capitol, as if shouting to lawmakers, "don't be afraid!" But the fact of the matter is, there are a lot of lawmakers who are afraid of TikTok, afraid about its connections to the Chinese Communist Party. They are still pushing TikTok CEO on that, trying to draw, in this hearing, linkages between TikTok, its parent company, Bytedance, and the Chinese Communist Party. So we're going to watch that play out over the course of the day, Kyra. - So let me ask you a question, because we heard from influencers and those that support the TikTok community, Jay, right? But they didn't give any specifics. I heard them say, it allows people to see my community. It is a positive thing for our community. But what is it exactly they think overrides the concerns that are being discussed? - It's interesting, because when you talk to some of these influencers, some of them that we spoke with, they acknowledge the security concerns about TikTok. They say that those security concerns persist across social media. And to a degree, they're right. But there are no wide scale social media companies that are owned by a Chinese company like TikTok is. TikTok, for its part, is trying to quell those concerns, in part, on data by walling off US user data in Texas. They call it Project Texas. It's going to be on Oracle servers in Texas. But still, there is existing US user data that's stored overseas. TikTok says that data is not accessible to employees in China, but lawmakers said today, again, that they're not buying that on misinformation. China is presenting assurances to lawmakers that no foreign country has influence over TikTok's algorithm over the videos it picks for its users and puts at the top of their For You Page. But again, in this hearing a lot of lawmakers saying, they just don't buy that either, Kyra. So there's a high bar that TikTok needs to clear to convince these members of Congress that it's safe. And right now, what we're seeing play out in this hearing is that for the vast majority of lawmakers, TikTok has not met that threshold. - Well, it's going to be interesting to see if that can even become a reality, that lawmakers actually ban-- are able to ban TikTok in the US. Jay, we will keep checking in. Thank you so much. Let's talk more about this, though, and bring in Javed Ali, former Senior Director for the National Security Council of Counterterrorism Center-- also served under the Trump administration. So Javed, what do you think? Do you believe TikTok's CEO here and that his company isn't sharing data with China, with the Communist Party? - Well, Kyra, great to be with you this afternoon. So there definitely is a lot of skepticism right now on the Hill, despite the claims from the TikTok CEO, about these steps or actions that the company has taken to minimize the risk. But I have been listening to the voices of my former organizations that I worked for, like the director of the FBI, the Secretary of Homeland Security. I mean, these are the voices in the executive branch, saying that there is a risk to having TikTok on your phone or your device, and that risk is probably some compromise of the data. And I would also have to think that there's some intelligence that they have or they've been able to glean that sort of suggests that this concern isn't just a political one coming from folks like the director of the FBI or the Secretary of Homeland Security. So as these hearings unfold, I think it's going to get even more contentious in terms of the pushback that the member is going to give the CEO. - Well, it's interesting, Javed, because TikTok's CEO said in the hearing that TikTok is saving all of its data in a server farm in Texas. So does that concern you? And if so, why? - Well, that may be TikTok's way of saying that. And I think your clip earlier said that the TikTok's CEO said that there was a firewall-- in their mind, thinking that the server is physically located in Texas and the data is stored there. But as we all know from a cybersecurity perspective, that doesn't mean that the data can't be breached or it can't be siphoned off or quietly moved-- KYRA PHILLIPS: Hacked. - --to another server off-shore. So even with the physical server, that in and of itself doesn't create the level of security that, probably, lawmakers would like or even folks within the intelligence community or within the Homeland Security world. KYRA PHILLIPS: So what can a third party like China actually track? And what do we already know that they are indeed tracking? - Well, China has engaged in a multifaceted, multipronged espionage campaign against the United States for years, if not decades, probably going back even to the mid-'90s. And if you look at individual operations that the Chinese government or third parties linked to the Chinese government have conducted, these intelligence sort of breakthroughs that they've gained have been pretty significant. One was in 2015-- sort of, a team hacked the Office of Personnel Management and stole millions of records of folks who had security clearances. I was included in that batch of people who had their security clearance information pilfered by the Chinese government. In 2021, we had a Microsoft Exchange hack that went through thousands of servers, and the Chinese government was also responsible for that. And then, just-- if you remember a few months ago, we had the balloon incident, which was different than a cyber-related level of espionage, but that was more physical surveillance. So we've seen China, time and time again, launch these sophisticated and aggressive intelligence collection operations against the United States. And that is where this concern from TikTok is coming from. It's not just a one-off incident. It's based on a backstory of a number of different operations the Chinese have conducted. - So can you say, yes or no-- because we have to wrap-- should TikTok be banned in the US? Do you have a strong feeling, yes or no? - I would say, no, and I personally do not have TikTok in any of my devices. - All right. Javed Ali, with your experience, we appreciate your context and insight. Thank you so much. - Thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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