By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Chinese-owned short video app TikTok faces a “pivotal moment” as a growing number of U.S. lawmakers seek to ban the popular app over national security concerns, CEO Shou Zi Chew said.
Chew said in a video posted on TikTok early on Tuesday that the app now has more than 150 million active monthly U.S. users, representing almost half of the country’s population and up from the 100 million U.S. users it had in 2020.
Chew, who will testify Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, noted that some politicians were talking about banning TikTok.
“This comes at a pivotal moment for us,” he said on the video that featured the U.S. Capitol in the background and received more than 3.8 million views since it was posted earlier in the day.
“Some politicians have started talking about banning TiktTok. Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”
Chew asked TikTok users to leave comments about what they wanted U.S. lawmakers to know about “what you love about TikTok”, and thousands responded in support.
TikTok’s critics fear that its U.S. user data could be passed on to China’s government by the app, which is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance. TikTok rejects the spying allegations.
Last week, TikTok said the Biden administration demanded that its Chinese owners divest their stake in the app or it could face a U.S. ban.
On Wednesday, TikTok creators and New York Representative Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat, will hold a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol to oppose a TikTok ban.
Bowman described the push to ban TikTok as “fear mongering” in an interview with Reuters.
He said the United States needed comprehensive “Big Tech regulation” that addressed Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube, Twitter and others, but singling out TikTok was “unacceptable.”
Banning TikTok “would be another message to younger voters that we don’t care about what you think,” Bowman said.
Chew said 5 million U.S. businesses also used TikTok to reach customers.
TikTok also said Tuesday it had updated its community use guidelines and offered more details of its plans to secure the data of U.S. users.
The company said it had started to delete this month U.S. user protected data in data centers in Virginia and Singapore after it started routing new U.S. data to the Oracle Cloud last year.
TikTok, which has said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on rigorous data security efforts, said “if protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”
A growing number of U.S. lawmakers support a ban on TikTok, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, congressional aides told reporters on a call Monday.
On Friday, six more U.S. senators backed bipartisan legislation to give Biden new powers to ban TikTok.
On March 1, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted along party lines to give President Joe Biden new powers to ban TikTok.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Jane Merriman, Anna Driver and Jamie Freed)