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- TikTok is facing mounting pressure over concerns that it censors content deemed offensive to the Chinese government, accesses users’ data without their consent, and poses a threat to US national security.
- The Washington Post reported Thursday that TikTok’s chief, Alex Zhu, is planning a visit to Washington, D.C., next week to meet with lawmakers who have been most critical of the app.
- The US government is currently investigating TikTok over concerns about its ties to China because its parent company, ByteDance, is based there. However, TikTok has repeatedly denied there’s any connection or that China has any influence over the app.
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The head of TikTok is reportedly planning a trip to Washington, D.C., next week to meet with a slew of lawmakers who have harshly criticized the app over its purported ties to the Chinese government that have led to concerns over censorship and privacy.
This appears to be the first visit that the TikTok chief, Alex Zhu, has made to Capitol Hill on behalf of the viral video-sharing platform, the Washington Post reported Thursday. TikTok has become an oft-discussed target among those in the US government, who recently opened a national security investigation and have questioned how close the relationship is between the platform and its China-based parent company, ByteDance.
The Post reports that Zhu will meet with Republican Sens. Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio, all of whom have been outspoken advocates for an investigation into the platform. James Arnold, a spokesman for Cotton, told Business Insider that Zhu and the Arkansas senator wouldn’t be meeting next week, but said that they “did meet on a staff level this week.”
Just last month, TikTok was asked to testify at a Congressional hearing on tech companies’ relationship with China, but the company declined to send anyone. Hawley, who organized the hearing, was quick to voice his disapproval at the “empty seat treatment.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, is notably absent from the list of lawmakers scheduled to meet with the TikTok head. Schumer helped spearhead calls by officials to investigate the platform. Schumer’s office did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment by time of publication.
Increasing scrutiny over ties to China
TikTok has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times globally, an indicator of its rapid rise as a platform – especially loved by teens – for creating and sharing short videos and launching the latest viral memes across the internet.
But since the app came to the United States in August 2018, TikTok has faced increasing scrutiny over ties to its parent company, a $75 billion company based out of China called ByteDance. TikTok has consistently defended itself by asserting that none of its moderators are based in China, and that no “foreign government” asks the platform to censor content.
TikTok has faced allegations it censors “culturally problematic” and political content that could be seen as offensive to the Chinese government, according to former employees’ reports to the Washington Post and documents obtained by The Guardian and the German blog Netzpolitik. When pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong earlier this year, TikTok was curiously devoid of any hints of unrest, and videos instead documented a prettier picture.
More recently, an American teen named Feroza Aziz had her account suspended after she went viral for using her videos, disguised as makeup tutorials, to speak about China’s treatment of Muslims. TikTok has since issued an apology, but blamed the removal of her anti-China videos from TikTok on “a human moderation error.”
Additionally, others have raised concerns that the ties between China and TikTok puts the privacy of users’ data at risk. A class-action lawsuit was recently filed in California by a college student who alleges that her private information and unpublished content was accessed by TikTok without her permission and stored on servers in China.
TikTok is also expected to meet with Sen. Marsha Blackburn next week over concerns about children’s data and privacy on the app, as Axios reported earlier this week. TikTok settled another lawsuit this week related to children’s privacy, paying out $1.1 million related to allegations that the app collected the information of children under 13 without their parents’ consent.