As TikTok's (and China's) Influence Continues to Rise, Silicon Valley Starts Fighting Back

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File

Despite the warnings from security experts, the government, and seemingly everyone in between, the viral social media and video app TikTok has continued to grow at a wild pace in the U.S.


With roughly 150 million users in the U.S, the app’s popularity has continued to rise, leading to what some are calling a data privacy nightmare. In fact, it’s so problematic that Congress will be hearing from the CEO of the app this week.

When TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before Congress on Thursday, he plans to unveil new internal data that suggests the popular video-sharing app is far more enmeshed in Americans’ daily lives than anyone realizes.

TikTok currently says about 100 million people in the U.S. are regular users of the app. But when Chew testifies before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, he will say that number has now reached 150 million, according to a senior Democratic strategist advising TikTok.

That 50% jump in the number of monthly active users in the U.S. suggests the app has become even more entrenched in the U.S. over the nearly three years that Washington — under two presidential administrations — has grappled with how to rein it in.

Despite the sheer amount of personal data the app collects and the fact that the company’s servers are located in China, the app just hits all the right pleasure centers of the brain. It’s viral content with an algorithm that constantly adjusts to bring us the content we most want to see, the videos are short enough that our attention span doesn’t run out before the content ends, and it’s easy to go from one video to the next without having to search.

It’s addiction made easy, but it comes at a pretty big cost. State and federal government agencies are banning the app on government-issued devices because it sniffs around for a lot of personal information not just from your device, but potentially the specifics of the network you’re using at the time. It’s a big risk that Congress and the White House are taking notice of.


But, it isn’t just Congress that is taking note, either. Apparently, Silicon Valley is coming together to push back against China’s influence in the social media space – and the tech industry overall.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a group of “Silicon Valley executives, including investor Peter Thiel, and Washington lawmakers are quietly mobilizing against China’s involvement in the U.S. tech industry.” That’s a big move in the industry, which for years has been friendly with the Chinese.

A lot of American companies, in fact, have been extremely friendly with China because of the size of the Chinese market. But such a relationship has costs – censorship and demands for data are often the biggest sacrifices made to get access into the Chinese market.

And that’s not just the tech industry, either. Disney frequently bends the knee to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, as does the NBA. The result is almost always a compromised product. But if Silicon Valley is fighting back, that is a big step in pushing Chinese influence out of some of our key industries.

More, from WSJ:

“We’re priming Congress to be ready for this testimony,” said Mr. [Jacob] Helberg. He and others attending the dinner have been encouraging lines of questioning about TikTok. He said he views TikTok as “the most potent espionage operation that China has ever carried out against the U.S.”

A spokeswoman for TikTok didn’t comment on the group, but said TikTok has never shared U.S. user data with Beijing. “The Chinese government has never asked us to share U.S. user data, nor would we, if asked,” she said.

The call for TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell their stakes represents the most forceful demand of the app yet from the Biden administration. The U.S. government, the European Commission, Canada, Belgium and more than 30 U.S. states have banned TikTok on government-issued devices. Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray said in early March that TikTok “screams out with national security concerns.”


Helberg, mentioned in the except, is described as a “former Google policy adviser who is the newest member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional research and advisory panel.”

We don’t know if TikTok will ever be fully separated from the Chinese government, but if the U.S. government and Silicon Valley are teaming up to fight the Chinese, it’s a positive step forward.


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