TikTok and the US Congress

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

Most recently TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew endured a bombardment of questions by US lawmakers who made known their convictions on the app, best known for sharing jokes and dance routines (not to mention great cooking recipes), as a threat to US national security as well as a danger to mental health.

As explained by TikTok’s CEO, 150 million Americans use the platform – an app, as Chew says, is a place where people can be curious and creative. In addition, TikTok’s CEO also explained that close to five million businesses in America (mostly small businesses) use the app to fuel their growth and find new customers.

As a parent, it is surely important to keep our children safe from any type of online abuse and as TikTok continues to grow, this short-form video hosting service owned by the Chinese company ByteDance continues to look into the lessons that should be learned from other companies that have come before them, especially on the safety of children.

One of the fastest growing demographic on the platform are people under 35 and a lot of measures have been taken in terms of protection and security, such as family pairing tools where parents can participate in their children’s activities. Chew is fighting a ban in the US and it seems the feedback from people who largely support the app understand how such a platform may indeed be a place where people can learn.

Not too long ago I had mentioned some insights by George Siy, head of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI), who explained the importance of re-investing ourselves on the things that are truly essential. Having said this, TikTok’s CEO basically explains the same thing to the US Congress by stating how their app has most recently launched a feed that exclusively features educational videos about STEM and that such videos on TikTok have reached over 116 billion views. It seems TikTok is inspiring, as Chew says, a new generation to discover a passion for math and science.

When it comes to national security concerns, Chew goes further in Congress by emphasizing that ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government and that 60 percent of the company is owned by global institutional investors and 20 percent is owned by the founder and another 20 percent is owned by employees around the world. The company has five board members, three of them being Americans.

What’s even more fascinating is that TikTok itself is not available in mainland China and is headquartered in Singapore and in Los Angeles with 7,000 employees in the US. While TikTok’s approach is not meant to dismiss nor trivialize national security concerns, it has for the last two years done its part by building a firewall intended to protect US data from unauthorized foreign access. The bottom line therefore, as explained by Chew, is their accountability for American data, stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel under an initiative called Project Texas (through Oracle headquartered in Texas), which is why US TikTok data is stored by default in Oracle service with the end game being all protected US data to be under the protection of US law and under the control of the US-led security team, hence eliminating the notion of TikTok user data being subject to Chinese law.

It seems to me that TikTok is boldly ensuring that their company is the only company that has gone to such tremendous lengths in terms of transparency and will not be manipulated by any government, which leads me to conclude that while Congress did not offer any counter evidence on the matter of TikTok, it could instead shift to more essential matters such as the collapse of two American tech-focused banks or their deteriorating educational system.

Back to us, the Philippines, and having seen this “standoff” in the US Congress, one can’t help but wonder about how much we are willing to put up with in the name of our own – country, health, people or education (among others). We really should continue asking ourselves where we see our country from now until the next five years perhaps, and how ready we are in benefiting from what is called a multipolar system.

TikTok seems to be figuring all this out as they continue to learn and expand their platform and, regardless of the possibility of getting banned, the numbers don’t lie in the areas of business and education. They are taking advantage of the essentials and maybe, it’s time we do the same.


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