TikTok faces a daunting calendar ahead in Washington
TikTok is set to be in lawmakers' crosshairs in the next coming months.
Congress is likely to vote on banning the app in February, while the company engages in ongoing talks with the Biden administration about whether TikTok can ever be safe for American users. In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before lawmakers, a spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce committee confirmed to Yahoo Finance on Monday.
The coming face-off could be one of the biggest moments for Washington and Big Tech in 2023 and comes in the middle of a heated debate among policymakers over how to rein in TikTok and whether a government ban is even possible.
“ByteDance-owned TikTok has knowingly allowed the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to access American user data," Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who will lead the questioning at the March 23 hearing, said in a statement. "We’ve made our concerns clear with TikTok. It is now time to continue the committee’s efforts to hold Big Tech accountable by bringing TikTok before the committee to provide complete and honest answers for people.”
TikTok itself has been working to head off talk of a ban in recent weeks.
In a recent statement to Yahoo Finance, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said: "We hope that lawmakers will focus their energies on efforts to address those issues holistically, rather than pretending that banning a single service would solve any of the problems they're concerned about or make Americans any safer."
The hearing was first reported by the Wall Street Journal and comes as TikTok has begun to be more aggressive in Washington. The company is reportedly moving around personnel to confront their many standoffs with policymakers, according to the South China Morning Post.
All eyes on a high-profile CEO hearing
Chew has run the popular video streaming app since April 2021 and has been reportedly meeting with think tanks and other groups in Washington recently to develop his case for keeping the app available in the U.S.
The March hearing will be Chew’s first time before lawmakers in a high-stakes setting and follows a list of major tech CEOs — from Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg to Google’s Sundar Pichai among others — who have found themselves facing aggressive questioning from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Over 50 lawmakers sit on the House committee that Chew will appear before.
Oberwetter recently told Yahoo Finance that the company is working with the Biden administration on what it says is a comprehensive plan to address issues like corporate governance and data security.
“These measures go beyond what any peer company is doing today on security,” she said.
But the core concern remains about whether TikTok can reorganize so the data it gathers on Americans is not accessible by the Chinese government and if its algorithm can ensure that China cannot influence the media that Americans consume.
The company had previously announced plans to work with Oracle (ORCL) on these issues, but has faced skepticism that the company— which remains owned by Beijing-based ByteDance — can ever operate in the U.S. free of Chinese government influence.
Rodgers promises that the March hearing will be expansive and touch on issues like TikTok’s privacy practices, the impact on children who use the app, and the company’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Three other fronts for the beleaguered company
The company is also set to face another vote in a different congressional committee on whether to ban the app in the coming weeks.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) recently told Bloomberg that a vote in his committee was in the offing. He also told the outlet that he's skeptical any firewall between the app and the Chinese government will ever be enough to protect users.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), a member of McCaul’s committee, recently introduced a bill to ban the app on all devices in the U.S.
“Banning CCP-tied TikTok nationwide is the only route,” he said in a statement.
Buck’s bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), is in addition to a bipartisan effort to ban TikTok sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL).
As if all that wasn't enough, the company also faces ban proposals at the state level along with the ongoing Biden administration review.
Biden’s team is probing the company through the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The influential group has the power to review foreign companies and their financial transactions and has been working with TikTok for two years in an effort that is expected to wrap up this year.
Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance. Allie Garfinkle contributed reporting.
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