TikTok tells US lawmakers it does not give information to China's government

TikTok's Michael Beckerman testifies before a Senate hearing in Washington on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - An executive at social media app TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, denied during a US congressional hearing on Tuesday (Oct 26) that it has given information to the Chinese government and said that it has taken steps to safeguard US data.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee that held the hearing, said she is concerned about TikTok's data collection, including audio and a user's location, and the potential for the Chinese government to gain access to the information.

Blackburn pressed Michael Beckerman, TikTok's head of public policy for the Americas, on whether the company could resist giving data to China's government if material were to be demanded.

"We do not share information with the Chinese government," Beckerman responded.

Blackburn said that China's government has a financial stake in ByteDance and a seat on the board, which Beckerman denied.

Beckerman also said that outside researchers have found that TikTok has collected less data on users than its tech industry peers.

Beckerman testified that TikTok's US user data is stored in the United States, with backups in Singapore.

"We have a world-renowned US based security team that handles access," Beckerman said.

Republican Senator John Thune said during the hearing that TikTok is perhaps more driven by content algorithms than even Facebook, as the app is famous for quickly learning what users find interesting and offering them those types of videos.

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Beckerman said TikTok would be willing to provide the app's algorithm moderation policies in order for the Senate panel to have it reviewed by independent experts.

Republican former President Donald Trump had sought to bar TikTok - a popular platform used by millions of Americans - from US app stores, saying it collected data from American users that could be obtained by China's government and posed a threat to US national security.

Democratic President Joe Biden later revoked Trump's plan, but sought a broader review of various foreign-controlled apps.

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