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TikTok CEO Xu Zi Zhu will do everything in his power to ensure the survival of this video-sharing application that is very popular in the United States, when on Thursday, March 23, 2023, he faces deputies in Washington who suspect the company has ties to the Chinese government.
The 40-year-old Singaporean will speak before the powerful House Energy and Trade Committee at 10:00 am (1400 GMT), in a hearing expected to last hours during which he will be grilled by Republicans and Democrats who fear Beijing is using the app for spying or propaganda purposes.
The TikTok application, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is under enormous pressure from several Western countries, with government officials in the United States and the European Union Commission, as well as the United Kingdom and Canada, demanding that they delete the application from their devices.
Also, the BBC on Tuesday advised its employees to remove TikTok from their phones.
But the biggest threat to TikTok comes from the United States, where President Joe Biden’s administration has warned the company to give up its Chinese ownership or face a total ban.
The ban, if implemented, would be an unprecedented step against a media company taken by the US government, and would cut off 150 million monthly users in the country from the application, which has become the most watched source of entertainment in the country after Netflix, especially among young people.
According to prepared remarks released before the hearing, Zhou will say, “Let me make this absolutely clear: ByteDance is not a client of China or any other country.”
And he will add in his statement Thursday, “TikTok has neither participated nor received a request to share US user data with the Chinese government. TikTok would never implement a similar request if it received it.”
Despite his assurances, it seems that the decision was taken in Washington with many pieces of legislation, including a bill supported by the White House, which actually paves the way for banning the application.
“Americans deserve to know the extent to which their privacy has been compromised and their data manipulated through TikTok’s relationship with China,” said Kathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Worse, we know that big technology companies, such as TikTok, use malicious algorithms to exploit children for profit and expose them to dangerous content on the Internet,” the Republican representative added.
In the final months of his term, former President Donald Trump also tried to ban the app, but his efforts were ultimately undermined by a US judge.
Beijing last week urged Washington to “stop unjustifiably cracking down on TikTok” and said the United States had no evidence that TikTok threatened US national security.
And Wednesday, dozens of young people, teachers and business owners gathered in front of the Capitol building to voice their opposition to a possible ban.
“Are there other platforms? Sure, I use them. But none of them have the reach that TikTok has,” the aspiring soap entrepreneur @countrylather2020 told her 70,000 followers in a video she shot after arriving in Washington.
The sale process, even if all parties agree to it, will be very complex.
The platform’s success is due to its strong recommendation algorithm, and “the division of the algorithm between TikTok and ByteDance will be similar to the process of separating Siamese twins,” analyst Dan Ives of Wedbush told AFP.
TikTok still hopes to appease the authorities.
Chu’s testimony will promote the company’s delicate plan, known as Project Texas, to reduce national security concerns, under which it would shift processing of US data to a US-run division.
Chu will tell lawmakers that TikTok spent $1.5 billion on the project and hired 1,500 people in the United States to launch it.