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TikTok Exec Says Agreement With U.S. Government to Address Concerns Over User Data

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A top TikTok executive pushed back against senators grilling the company over its links to China, expressing confidence a deal with the U.S. government would safeguard American users’ data.

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

“We think that all data collected related to Americans and then accessed in China is a problem,” Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, said during the hearing. Sen.

Kyrsten Sinema,

a Democrat from Arizona, said, “There’s a real risk that TikTok could alter its algorithm to promote or censor content on Beijing’s behalf.”

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that TikTok only needs one important piece of information to figure out what you want: the amount of time you linger over a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or rewatch, the app is tracking 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 security of its U.S. users and is working to reach an agreement with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., known as Cfius, a federal panel that oversees cross-border mergers and acquisitions, that has been looking into the company.

“Our final agreement with the U.S. government will satisfy all national security concerns,” she said. “As it relates to access and controls, we are going to go above and beyond.”

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

TikTok didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the statements made by Ms. Pappas, who didn’t address when the Cfius deal might be finalized. The Treasury Department, which oversees the interagency Cfius process, didn’t immediately comment.

To help address U.S. concerns about its data, TikTok decided to use

Oracle Corp.

as its cloud infrastructure partner to handle traffic for all U.S. 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 handle extremist and inappropriate content on their platform, underscoring the concerns lawmakers have over how the big social-media platforms operate.

On Tuesday, lawmakers voiced similar concerns when a different Senate committee heard testimony from Twitter whistleblower

Peiter Zatko,

who alleged that the social-media company misled regulators about security failures. Mr. Zatko, Twitter’s former security chief who was fired by the company, said executives gave priority to profit over security. During that hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) suggested he may push for a new government agency to police some of the privacy and security problems around user data.

Over the summer, a bill that would limit how businesses 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, hasn’t advanced to the House.

Action to regulate the social-media companies has gone beyond the federal level. The California legislature last month passed a bill that would—for the first time in the U.S.—require companies that make social-media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok to consider the physical and mental health of children when designing their products. Gov.

Gavin Newsom

hasn’t yet signed the bill or indicated 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 backtrack after talks to have a slew of U.S. companies including Oracle and

Walmart Inc.

take a stake in TikTok’s U.S. 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 over whether Chinese employees could access data on American users. TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew acknowledged that some Chinese staff had access to data on U.S. 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 [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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