A new report from Forbes alleges social media giant TikTok stores creators’ sensitive personal information, such as social security numbers and tax IDs, in China, despite previous denials by top officials in the Chinese company, including CEO Shou Zi Chew.
The Forbes report contradicts Chew’s March statement to Congress, in which he claimed under oath that TikTok keeps the personal and financial data of its U.S. users in Virginia and Singapore, and assured lawmakers “The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel.” The CEO’s apparent perjury prompted Sen. Marco Rubio to call for a Justice Department investigation.
“TikTok’s CEO has a lot of explaining to do, but his lies aren’t a surprise,” Sen. Rubio explained to The Federalist. “TikTok lies to everyone from creators to regulators. The user data that TikTok stores in China or makes accessible to its Chinese engineers can be weaponized at any time by the Chinese Communist Party.”
This new evidence, to say nothing of Chew’s prior acknowledgment of Chinese access to American data, refusal to guarantee protections for Americans’ health information, and unwillingness to condemn the company’s past spying on American journalists, adds to a list of growing concerns over the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party-linked app.
The report relies on records provided by multiple anonymous sources that allege TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, stores the financial information of American content creators and businesses — particularly those who have opted into the platform’s monetization and advertising programs — in China.
TikTok personalities who opted into the “Creator Fund” program and businesses that partner with the platform appear to be most directly affected, and their concerns are shared by many skeptics.
Zack Fairhurst, one of the platform’s active creators, said, “I would like everything to stay in the U.S.—like, I wouldn’t see why it would ever need to be stored on a China database.”
Demands to investigate Chew for perjury began Wednesday when Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chided the CEO while calling for the Department of Justice to investigate him. “Chew should be held accountable for making false statements about material facts related to TikTok’s operation,” Rubio wrote in a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Rubio requested that the DOJ “investigate whether Chew committed perjury when he falsely stated that TikTok has not stored the user data of Americans in China,” and urged the Biden administration “to be transparent with the American people about the threats posed by TikTok.”
The senator also reiterated calls to ban the company in the United States. “We’ve seen them spy on journalists, try to influence elections, and create corrosive and harmful algorithms,” Sen. Rubio told The Federalist. “It is past time to ban TikTok.”
Other longtime skeptics of TikTok took the opportunity to condemn the Beijing-affiliated tech company, with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., remarking “Imagine that — TikTok storing Americans’ financial info in China.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who authored a letter last year along with eight other Republican senators “demanding answers” from Chew, reacted to the report by saying, “It couldn’t be more clear that TikTok is lying about its efforts to keep Americans’ data safe.”
Cole Crystal is an intern at The Federalist with interests in foreign affairs, religion, and society.