The CEO of TikTok tried to calm critics’ fears about the security of his company’s app during an appearance Thursday.
Shou Chew was asked at a TED2023 Possibility conference if he could guarantee Beijing would not use the TikTok app, owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, to interfere in future U.S. elections.
“I can say that we are building all the tools to prevent any of these actions from happening,” Chew said. “And I’m very confident that with an unprecedented amount of transparency that we’re giving on the platform, we can, how we can reduce this risk to as low as zero as possible.”
Chew made the comments in Vancouver at the TED organization’s annual convention, where artificial intelligence and safeguards were discussed.
U.S. lawmakers and officials are ratcheting up threats to ban TikTok, saying the Chinese-owned video-sharing app used by millions of Americans poses a threat to privacy and U.S. national security.
U.S. lawmakers have grilled Chew over concerns the Chinese government could exploit the platform’s user data for espionage and influence operations in the United States.
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted in March, “It’s very concerning that the CEO of TikTok can’t be honest and admit what we already know to be true — China has access to TikTok user data.”
U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, was even more blunt in February, telling the committee, “Make no mistake, TikTok is a national security threat. … It’s a spy balloon in your phone.”
He was referencing a Chinese surveillance balloon that drifted across the United States in early February before being shot down off the southeastern U.S. coast.
Several governments, including Canada and the U.S., have banned the TikTok app from government-issued smartphones, citing concerns the Chinese government could exploit the platform’s user data for espionage and influence operations in the United States.
Chew says TikTok has never stored data from Americans on servers in China.
“All new U.S. data is already stored in the Oracle Cloud infrastructure. So it’s in this protected U.S. environment that we talked about in the United States,” he said. “We still have some legacy data to delete in our own servers in Virginia and in Singapore. Our data has never been stored in China.”
“It’s going to take us a while to delete them, but I expect it to be done this year,” he said.
Chew also emphasized TikTok’s efforts to moderate content. When asked how many people are reviewing content posted to the platform, Chew said the numbers and cost are huge.
“The group is based in Ireland and it’s a lot of people. It’s tens of thousands of people,” Chew said. “It’s one of the most important cost items. And I think it’s completely worth it.”
Speaking to a TED conference dominated by discussions of artificial intelligence, Chew said a lot of moderation on TikTok is done by machines.
“The machines are good, they’re quite good, but they’re not as good as you know, they’re not perfect at this point. So you have to complement it with a lot of human beings today,” he said.
VOA’s Masood Farivar contributed to this report.