After TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew wrote a letter to nine GOP senators who had questioned whether TikTok employees had access to data from U.S. users. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) demanded that TikTok testify before Congress.
The letter from the GOP senators was prompted by a Buzzfeed report centered on leaked audio from internal TikTok meetings. That report included 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees “indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least,” Buzzfeed reported, adding that the information from those employees countered a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony before the U.S. Senate that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decided who got access to this data.”
“Statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing,” Buzzfeed wrote. “US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own, according to the tapes.”
“‘Everything is seen in China,’ said a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department in a September 2021 meeting,” Buzzfeed claimed.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew countered that the Buzzfeed report “contains allegations and insinuations that are incorrect and are not supported by facts.”
The senators asked in their letter, “Is it true that TikTok employees located in China currently have, or had in the past, access to U.S. user data?”
“Employees outside the U.S., including China-based employees, can have access to TikTok user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our U.S. based security team,” Chew answered.
“If the Chinese Communist Party asked you for U.S. user data, what is to stop you from providing it? Can the CCP compel you to provide this data, regardless of response? Can they access it regardless of response?” the senators asked.
NBC News noted, “Chew only partially addressed these questions in his letter, writing, ‘We have not been asked for such data from the CCP. We have not provided U.S. user data to the CCP, nor would we if asked.’”
“TikTok’s response confirms that our fears regarding [Chinese Communist Party] influence within the company are well-founded,” Blackburn told NBC News. “They should have come clean from the start but instead tried to shroud their work in secrecy. Americans need to know that if they are on TikTok, Communist China has their information. TikTok needs to come back and testify before Congress.”