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TikTok CEO gives first public interview since congressional hearing

Shou Zi Chew spoke with the head of TED, Chris Anderson, at the TED2023 conference Thursday evening.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee at the Capitol
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington on March 23.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew doubled down on the platform's commitment to user safety and data security at the TED2023 conference Thursday.

Throughout the event in Vancouver, British Columbia, Chew — who was interviewed by Chris Anderson, the head of TED — re-emphasized TikTok's commitment to address concerns raised by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, specifically the issues of child safety, data security and China's influence on the app.

The Biden administration has threatened to ban the popular video app in the U.S. because of security concerns about its Chinese owners. Critics argue that TikTok is a national security threat given its ability to collect data on its users, some noting that much of the user base is teens and young adults.

Last week, Montana legislators passed a bill to block new downloads of TikTok in the state, the most significant action yet by a state yet against the app.

The Q&A, Chew's first public interview since he addressed lawmakers, was the latest part of his charm offensive efforts amid calls for a congressional crackdown on TikTok.

Asked by Anderson whether he could directly say TikTok will not allow Chinese government interference in U.S. elections, Chew said, “We are building all the tools to prevent any of these actions from happening."

"And I’m very confident that with an unprecedented amount of transparency that we’re giving on the platform, we can reduce this risk to as close to as zero as possible," he added.

Chew said the company is "very, very far along" with Project Texas, its plan to store U.S. data on American soil in partnership with the Texas-based cloud company Oracle.

"Today, by default, all new U.S. data is already stored in the Oracle Cloud infrastructure," Chew said. "So it's in this protected U.S. environment that we talked about in the United States. We still have some legacy data to delete in our own servers in Virginia and in Singapore."

He said deleting legacy data is a "big engineering effort" but should be completed by the end of the year.

Anderson also questioned Chew about TikTok's ability to protect children. Bloomberg News reported Thursday that TikTok’s algorithm pushes suicide to vulnerable kids.

Chew did not address the app’s impact on teen mental health but reiterated its restrictions for underage users and its community guidelines to prevent harmful content.

He also touched on age verification. In addition to requiring users to share their ages upon signing up, Chew said, TikTok has tools that scan people’s public profiles and “try and match what the age that you said with the video that you just posted.”