TikTok now has 150 million users in the US, up from 100 million it said it had in 2020.
The short-form video app, owned by China’s ByteDance, revealed the number on Tuesday (March 21) as the company faces growing calls from lawmakers to have it banned in the US due to national security concerns.
“This milestone coincides with a critical period for TikTok. Certain politicians have raised concerns about the potential banning of our platform, which would directly affect all 150 million Americans who have embraced TikTok,” the company said.
In a video posted to the app, TikTok CEO Shou Chew said that the number of users in the US works out to “almost half of the US coming to TikTok”.
TikTok also said it has spent $1.5 billion over the last two years in setting up TikTok US Data Security and in building a comprehensive framework to protect American users’ data.
The statement comes as six more US senators on Friday (March 17) backed a bipartisan bill to give US President Joe Biden the ability to ban TikTok on national security grounds.
“The risks are unacceptable—foreign powers exploiting tech platforms like TikTok and Huawei to undercut our national security must be stopped. The reasons for passing the RESTRICT Act are real and urgent—preventing espionage and privacy invasion. This bipartisan measure should command broad support, said Senator Richard Blumenthal.
TikTok also noted that it has nearly 7,000 employees in the US and that it helps almost 5 million businesses including countless small firms grow their business.
The platform launched another attempt at calming lawmakers’ and critics’ concerns about data security risks.
TikTok unveiled its US Data Security (USDS) site, which aims to provide “transparency into our commitments and answering common questions around our efforts to safeguard data.”
TikTok CEO Shou Chew will address concerns about how the company manages its data in a testimony before the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday (March 23).
“There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them.”
Shou Chew, TikTok
Chew will discuss TiKTok’s efforts in promoting minor safety, data privacy and platform security, according to Chew’s prepared speech provided to the US Congress.
“There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them,” says Chew.
Chew pledged to keep safety, particularly for teenagers, a top priority for the company, and to firewall protected US user data from unauthorized foreign access.
It comes as lawmakers expressed concerns about TikTok’s links to the Chinese Communist Party.
“The threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the US,” US Senator Mark Warner, who introduced the RESTRICT Act, said earlier this month.
TikTok has repeatedly dismissed these concerns. TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter recently said that the best way to address concerns about national security “is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
“We do not believe that a ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country’s economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans, and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is the solution to a solvable problem.”
Shou Chew, TikTok
Those comments follow reports that the US has threatened to ban TikTok from the country if its Chinese owners don’t sell their stakes.
Chew will also address calls to have TikTok’s Chinese shareholders divest their ownership on Thursday.
“Divestment doesn’t address the fundamental concerns that I have heard, as a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. This is not an issue of nationality,” Chew said in his pre-prepared speech.
“Bans are only appropriate when there are no alternatives. But we do have an alternative — one that we believe addresses the concerns we’ve heard from this Committee and others. We do not believe that a ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country’s economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans, and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is the solution to a solvable problem,” Chew added.
The executive will again campaign TikTok’s Project Texas before the Congress. The project will see TikTok storing the data of all US users within the US.
Chew reiterated that TikTok is not “beholden to the Chinese government” or that it shares information about US users with the Chinese government.
The company is led by an executive team in the US and Singapore, with global offices including in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Nashville, New York, Washington, D.C., Dublin, London, Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Singapore, Jakarta, Seoul, and Tokyo.
Chew added that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is not owned by the Chinese government. ByteDance is 60% owned by global institutional investors like Blackrock, General Atlantic and Sequoia, while 20% is owned by the company’s founders, and about 20% are owned by employees including thousands of Americans.
Chew’s testimony could be the company’s las-ditch effort to keep the app from getting banned in the US.
The US government has already ordered a ban of the app on federal devices, following similar measures by Canada and the European Commission. The UK also recently ordered federal employees to delete the app on government-owned devices.
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