The CEO of TikTok will testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee

Tensions surrounding TikTok will come to a head on Thursday, March 23, when the company’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It will give Democrats and Republicans a rare chance to voice their suspicions directly about TikTok, reports New York Times.

On Tuesday, Mr. Shou Zi Chew posted TikTok from the company’s main account, saying some politicians are trying to take the app away from its 150 million users in the United States, including small businesses.

But after two years of talks with TikTok to create new safeguards, it is not clear what the company can do other than hand over its entire US business to American owners to satisfy the country’s intelligence agencies’ concerns.

There are three areas of particular concern.

The first is where TikTok stores US users’ data. Until recently, much of that information was stored on ByteDance’s servers in Singapore and Virginia, but the presence of Chinese owners still raised concerns that China could obtain user data from TikTok under its own national security laws. This year, TikTok tried to pre-empt that argument, saying it would remove the data of its American users from ByteDance’s servers and transfer it to the servers of American cloud computing company Oracle.

Next comes a more difficult question — who writes the algorithm, the code that is TikTok’s secret sauce. This code evaluates the user’s choices and uses them to make recommendations. The algorithms were written in China by Chinese engineers and “TikTok could unilaterally decide to prioritize content that would threaten or destabilize the United States.”

And, finally, there is the question of whether the application, the algorithm of which few people understand, can give outsiders, in particular the Chinese Ministry of State Security, access to the phones of Americans.

In November, Christopher A. Wray, director of the FBI, warned that the Chinese government could use the TikTok algorithm for influence operations. This month, Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, head of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, echoed those fears.

TikTok has attempted to respond to concerns with a long list of updated video moderation rules, including new restrictions and labeling rules for deepfakes.

But in the current atmosphere in Washington, especially after downing of a Chinese spy balloon that crossed US territory in January, any evidence of Chinese surveillance fuels a deep desire of the US to destroy China’s entry points into US networks. And none is bigger or more influential than TikTok, so the path the Biden administration takes over the next few months could set a precedent that reaches far beyond TikTok.