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Senators Think TikTok’s CEO Lied to Congress



At least three US senators think TikTok’s CEO may have violated federal law. In recent letters, the lawmakers say Shou Zi Chew lied about the company’s data storage practices during a combative Congressional hearing earlier this year. The renewed focus on Chew’s wishy-washy answers follows a series of news reports which suggest Chinese TikTok and ByteDance employees, and even Chinese Community Party officials, had greater access to US user data than previously known.

On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee sent a letter addressed to the company’s CEO where they described a “pattern of misleading or inaccurate responses,” regarding perceived privacy and national security concerns. The senators said recent media reports “directly contradict,” statements Chew and others made in the past. The reports, which cite internal company documents, describe how China-based TikTok and ByteDance employees accessed US creators’ sensitive financial information and other data. The senators pointed to statements Chew made during the hearing, when he told lawmakers US user data “has always been stored in Virginia and Singapore in the past,” the letter notes.

“We are deeply troubled by TikTok’s recurring pattern of providing misleading, inaccurate, or false information to Congress and its users in the United States, including in response to us during oversight hearings and letters,” the senators wrote. The senators made a point to acknowledge Chew’s statements were made under oath. Knowingly lying under oath is a federal crime.

In their letter, Sens. Blumenthal and Blackburn sent TikTok a list of 14 questions grilling the company on when it stores data in China and whether or not the company can be legally compelled to share Americans stored in China to Beijing officials. The company has until June 16 to provide answers to those questions.

Blumenthal and Blackburn’s letter came less than one week after Republican Senator Marco Rubio sent his own strongly worded letter, this time asking United States Attorney General Merrick Garland to open an investigation into Chew’s statements. Rubio, like the other senators, cited a recent Forbes article claiming TikTok employees viewed financial information of US TikTokers as evidence the CEO misled Congress.

“Chew should be held accountable for making false statements about material facts related to TikTok’s operation, as he appears to have done in this case,” Rubio said. TikTok did not immediately respond to Gizmdod’s request for comment.


New Reports claim employees in China had greater access than previously known

For years, TikTok executives have tried to downplay lawmakers fears that TikTok could be used as an espionage tool to send US user data to China. The company is spending over a billion dollars on its Project Texas data rerouting effort which will attempt to secure all US user data on American Oracle servers upon its completion. The timeline for that project’s completion, however, remains unclear. Until then, TikTok finds itself in the uncomfortable position of trying to dance around questions regarding whether non-Chinese entities can access US data and where that data is stored.

A recent pair of stories have made those questions more difficult to avoid. A May Forbes report claims TikTok stored important financial records of creators—including their Social Security numbers and Tax IDs numbers—on Chinese servers. Another report released around the same time by The New York Times claims TikTok or ByteDance employees, including some based in China, use the messaging application app Lark to view the personal data of users around the world. The company’s use of the messaging app, according to the Times, drew concerns from some employees internally.

“Should Beijing-based employees be owners of groups that contain secret [data of users?” a TikTok employee asked in an internal report last July.

A more recent wrongful dismissal complaint filed by a former high-level ByteDance executive this week appeared to confirm some of lawmakers’ deepest fears: Communist government officials viewing US data. In the complaint, former US ByteDance head of engineering named Yintao “Roger” Yu alleged the company has a “back door channel” in its code that allows members of the Chinese Community Party view data from users anywhere in the world. ByteDance is the parent company of TikTok.

Yu, who also claimed Chew downplayed China’s access to US user’s data, said Chinese Communist Party officials had a “special office” in ByteDance and were granted “superuser” credentials, which he said made them the equivalent of a “god user,” able to access any and all data collected by ByteDance. A ByteDance official refuted Yu’s claims in a previous statement to Gizmodo and said they seemed intended to “garner media attention.”

It’s worth noting that TikTok isn’t the only company potentially sending user data over to China. Earlier this year, Gizmodo found around 28,251 apps that used TikTok’s software development kits to send data to TikTok for functions like logging in, and sharing videos from the app. In fact, many state governments websites in areas where lawmakers are most repulsed by TikTok appear to be sending data to TikTok as well. That said, the recent reports appearing to contradict TikTok executives’ public statements don’t bode well for the company, especially as the public appetite for state and nationwide bans of the app continues to gain momentum.

Source: Gizmodo


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