TikTok chief, facing criticism over China ties, cancels meetings with US lawmakers

TikTok chief, facing criticism over China ties, cancels meetings with US lawmakers
By: WNG CNBC Posted On: December 10, 2019 View: 43

TikTok chief, facing criticism over China ties, cancels meetings with US lawmakers

Alex Zhu, founder of Musical.ly Inc., poses for a photograph in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

TikTok chief Alex Zhu is postponing meetings with U.S. lawmakers that were originally expected to take place this week, the company confirmed late Monday.

"TikTok has no higher priority than ensuring Congress Members' questions are addressed fully and transparently. To ensure these conversations are as productive as possible, we're looking forward to holding these meetings after the holidays," a spokesperson said in a statement.

TikTok had requested meetings with lawmakers as the company faces mounting scrutiny over its ties to China. Lawmakers have suspected the company censors content in line with Chinese officials' preferences and that user data could be accessed by the Chinese government.

TikTok has repeatedly denied this is the case. In his first interview as chief of TikTok last month, Alex Zhu refuted all allegations of political censorship on the app. He told The New York Times that were China's top official, Xi Jinping, to ask Zhu to remove a video or hand over user data, "I would turn him down."

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. tweeted Tuesday night that TikTok cancelled the meeting scheduled for this week. He also implied that the company was taking orders from its Chinese parent company not to meet with U.S. lawmakers.

The U.S. Army has barred soldiers from using the app following a national security concern and TikTok's Chinese parent ByteDance faces a national security review from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) over its 2017 acquisition of TikTok precursor Musical.ly, a person familiar with the matter previously told CNBC.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., requested the review, claiming in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin there is "ample and growing evidence that TikTok's platform for Western markets, including the U.S., is censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese Government and Communist Party directives."

Rubio's office declined a meeting TikTok requested with the senator, a congressional aide told CNBC. Zhu was scheduled to meet with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., her office told CNBC. Blackburn wrote Zhu last month that she feared the app, popular with a younger demographic, "is paving the way for the Chinese government to gain unfettered and unsupervised access to our children's lives."

Despite TikTok's claims it does not allow Chinese officials access to user data or censor content in line with the Chinese government's views, recent controversies have opened room for doubt. In a class-action suit filed last month, for example, a California student accused the company of secretly collecting data on users and transferring private user data to China.

Also last month, head of safety at TikTok Eric Han apologized to a 17-year-old user in New Jersey after the company disabled access to her account and briefly removed one of her viral videos in which she discussed China's mistreatment of the Uighur ethnic minority. Critics seized upon the instance as evidence of the app's censorship on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Han said TikTok was reviewing the procedure that led to the removal and said the company would create "carve-outs for things like education and satire, as other platforms do."

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WATCH: TikTok sued in California for accusations of data transfer to China

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