TikTok Exec Says Deal With US Government To Address Concerns Over User Data

A top TikTok executive pushed back against senators who grilled the company over its ties to China, expressing confidence that a deal with the US government would protect US users’ data.

The popular short-form video platform, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., has come under scrutiny in Washington over some of its data practices. At a nearly three-hour hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Democrats and Republican lawmakers pressed the company over questions about access Chinese employees have to U.S. user data and whether any employees had ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

“We believe that any data collected related to Americans and then accessed in China is a problem,” Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, said at the hearing. Late. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, said: “There is a real risk that TikTok could change its algorithm to promote or censor content on Beijing’s behalf.”

A Wall Street Journal study found that TikTok only needs one key piece of information to figure out what you want: how long you spend on a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or look again, the app tracks you. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann/The Wall Street Journal

TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas said at the hearing that the company is committed to the safety of its American users and is working to reach an agreement with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known as Cfius, a federal panel that oversees cross-border mergers and acquisitions that have looked at the company.

“Our final agreement with the US government will satisfy all national security concerns,” she said. “In terms of access and control, we will go beyond that.”

Ms. Pappas declined to specify the details of the agreement, citing the sensitivity of the Cfius process.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the statements by Ms. Pappas, who did not say when the Cfius deal might be finalized. The Ministry of Finance, which oversees the interagency Cfius process, did not immediately comment.

To help address US concerns about its data, TikTok decided to use Oracle corp.

as its cloud infrastructure partner to handle traffic for all US user data.

During the hearing, executives from Meta Platforms Inc.,

Twitter Inc.

and YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc.,

also faced rounds of questions about how they deal with extremist and inappropriate content on their platform, underscoring the concerns lawmakers have about how the major social media platforms operate.

On Tuesday, lawmakers expressed similar concerns as another Senate committee heard testimony from Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko, who claimed the social media company misled regulators about security flaws. Zatko, Twitter’s former security chief who was fired by the company, said executives prioritized profits over security. During that hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) suggested he might push for a new government agency to oversee some of the privacy and security issues surrounding user data.

Over the summer, a bill that would limit how companies collect and use consumer data received bipartisan support in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The bill, called the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, has not reached Parliament.

The move to regulate social media companies has gone beyond the federal level. The California legislature passed a bill last month that – for the first time in the US – would require companies that make social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok to consider children’s physical and mental health when designing their products. Gov. Gavin Newsom has yet to sign the bill or indicate whether he would.

TikTok has been under scrutiny in Washington for some time. Two years ago, the Trump administration said it would ban downloads and use of the app, only to back down after negotiations to have a number of US companies, including Oracle and Walmart Inc.

take a stake in TikTok’s US operations. That plan was shelved indefinitely by President Biden last year as the administration launched its own review of how to handle the platform.

Senators this year demanded answers from TikTok about whether Chinese employees could access data about American users. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew acknowledged that some Chinese employees had access to data on American users, but said the company was making progress on its plan to upgrade data security under an initiative known as Project Texas.

Write to Meghan Bobrowsky at Meghan.Bobrowsky@wsj.com

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