TikTok chief says if China’s president asked for a video to be taken down or access to TikTok user data he would refuse
Category : entrepreneur
- TikTok chief Alex Zhu said he would turn down the Chinese government’s requests for user data or to censor content, even if the request came directly from Chinese president Xi Jinping himself.
- Zhu made the remark during a recent interview with The New York Times in which he insisted TikTok is not beholden to the Chinese government’s wishes.
- TikTok has over 1 billion users worldwide, but is now the subject of intense scrutiny from US lawmakers who worry its Chinese ownership makes it a national security threat.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
TikTok head Alex Zhu is insistent that the Chinese video-sharing app is not bound by the whims of the Chinese government.
When pressed on the subject, Zhu said in a recent New York Times interview that he would personally rebuff Chinese president Xi Jinping if the leader asked TikTok to hand over user data or remove content from the platform.
“I would turn him down,” Zhu said.
TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity in the past year, accumulating over 1.5 billion downloads worldwide and sitting near the top of the iPhone free app charts for months.
With that popularity has come heightened scrutiny — US lawmakers have voiced concerns that TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance could bend to China’s orders to censor content that criticizes the Communist Party or to submit user data on US citizens to the Chinese government.
TikTok has previously instructed its employees to censor political content, according to The Guardian, which reported that internal TikTok documents called for the removal of videos mentioning Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and other controversies surrounding the Chinese government.
TikTok responded to The Guardian’s report by saying the censorship policies reflected “a blunt approach to minimising conflict on the platform” that had been retired in May, adding that “we recognised that this was not the correct approach, and began working to empower local teams that have a nuanced understanding of each market.”
The same day that the Times published its interview with Zhu, The Wall Street Journal reported that TikTok is exploring ways to rebrand in the US to minimize the optics of being a Chinese-owned company. TikTok has already implemented algorithms that reduce how much content from Chinese users appears on the app for other users worldwide, according to WSJ sources.
TikTok has repeatedly insisted that users’ data is secure and hasn’t been accessed by the Chinese government.
“The data of TikTok is only being used by TikTok for TikTok users,” Zhu told the Times.
The app said it hired a third-party auditor, cybersecurity firm Special Counsel, to investigate its data protection practices. Special Counsel didn’t find any improper data sharing, vice president of cybersecurity Doug Brush told Business Insider.
“We saw no evidence of data being accessed by folks in China, in fact that would actually be fairly difficult. This is a very complicated and robust ecosystem for the application,” Brush said. “I dont view them as being much dissimilar to other Silicon Valley companies.”
TikTok may continue to grow in the coming months, especially as it tests new features meant to make it more profitable for influencers to do business on the platform.