Alex Zhu, CEO of TikTok
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TikTok chief Alex Zhu will meet with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. next week as suspicions around the app’s ties to China continue to grow, CNBC confirmed. The Washington Post first reported the trip on Thursday.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., will meet with Zhu next week, according to her office. Blackburn has been an outspoken critic of the tech industry and of TikTok in particular over suspected vulnerability of its technology to the Chinese government. In a letter last month, Blackburn told Zhu she feared the app, which is popular with a younger audience and owned by Chinese company ByteDance, “is paving the way for the Chinese government to gain unfettered and unsupervised access to our children’s lives.”
TikTok is already facing significant oversight from the U.S. government. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) has formally launched a national security review into ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, the precursor to TikTok, a person familiar with the matter previously told CNBC. The review followed urging from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who claimed in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that 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.”
TikTok requested a meeting with Rubio as well, according to a congressional aide, but his office declined.
In an on-air interview last week, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told CNBC’s Morgan Brennan the army has “immediately” barred soldiers from using TikTok after a national security concern was brought to his attention earlier this year. McCarthy said Army Cyber Command is assisting in a review into potential vulnerabilities.
TikTok has rejected the plausibility of the Chinese government tapping into the data of its U.S. users. In an interview with The New York Times published last month, Zhu said TikTok does not share user data with the Chinese government or its Chinese parent company. He added that worldwide TikTok user data is stored in Virginia with a backup server in Singapore.
On the question of whether TikTok censors content on its platform to appease Chinese officials, the company has insisted it does not. Zhu even told the Times he would turn down the country’s leader if asked directly to remove content or hand over data from the app.
But those reassurances have not quieted suspicions, especially after a user was locked out of her account last week after posting a video critical of the Chinese regime. At the time, TikTok claimed the user was barred from her account due to previous terrorism-related posts, which the user told the Washington Post in an interview were a “joke.” TikTok later lifted the ban, saying her account had been caught up in a “scheduled platform-wide enforcement” action and her critical video removed temporarily “due to a human moderation error.”
TikTok did not immediately provide comment on Zhu’s reported trip to D.C.
-CNBC’s Ylan Mui contributed to this report.