Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, faced a panel of federal lawmakers Thursday and sought to calm their concerns about the social media platform due to its ties to China and possible security risks that could arise as a result.
Chew, 40, took the helm of TikTok about two years ago after spending most of his career in investment banking and venture capital.
Here’s what you need to know.
Who is Shou Zi Chew?
Chew, born in January 1983 in Singapore, completed mandatory military service for the Singaporean government as a teenager. then moved to England to enroll at University College London. After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, he then landed a job as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs in London.
A few years later, he left that role to move again — this time to the United States — to enroll in Harvard Business School in 2008. While still at Harvard, Chew took an internship in 2009 at a then-modest startup technology company called Facebook.
After graduating from Harvard in 2010, Chew spent a decade working for a venture capital firm in Hong Kong and a consumer electronics manufacturer in Beijing.
In 2021, he joined TikTok and its parent company ByteDance in a dual role of TikTok CEO and ByteDance chief financial officer. Chew reports to ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo.
Chew is married to Vivian Kao and they have two children.
What is Chew’s reputation?
Americans know relatively little about Chew compared to other Silicon Valley social media giants such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, said Brooke Erin Duffy, a Cornell University professor who studies social media platforms.
“Chew has been in the background on public discourse until now, so he doesn’t have the same reputation we would associate with the Silicon Valley set, especially Zuckerberg,” she said.
Most Americans likely first heard of Chew when he released a video this week speaking directly to TikTok’s U.S. users, she said, “so he doesn’t have the same reputation as someone we know, and (we) don’t have sense of who he is.”
But Chew is well-respected within the U.S. and China tech communities. He was considered a good fit for TikTok because of his background in investment banking and his time at Facebook and DST Global, said Dan Ives, managing director at Wedbush Securities.
“He gained a lot of respect just by taking that high risk, in-the-hot seat role at TikTok,” Ives said, adding that the company likely thought he was the right person to ease tensions with U.S. lawmakers.
Why is Chew appearing before U.S. lawmakers?
Chew is facing intense questioning before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce as a possible ban of TikTok is gaining momentum in Washington.
The hearing Thursday centers on TikTok’s “consumer privacy and data security practices, how the platform affects children, and its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party,” or CCP, according to the committee.
National security experts have warned that TikTok, which has 150 million American users, could be used to spy on Americans or as a propaganda tool by the Chinese government. Advocates for banning the app in the U.S. said TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, could be forced to share user data with the CCP.
TikTok has already been banned on federal government devices, including military devices. The Justice Department is investigating ByteDance for possibly spying on U.S. citizens, including journalists, CBS News confirmed last week. ByteDance said in a statement that it “strongly condemned” the actions of those involved and they were no longer employed by the company.
Privacy experts have stressed that there’s no evidence that TikTok has shared data with the Chinese government, nor that its data collection is more invasive than that of many American apps such as YouTube, Instagram, or dating and shopping apps. However, TikTok’s status as a Chinese-owned company makes some national-security experts nervous.
What has Chew said to lawmakers so far?
Chew told the House panel that TikTok is building “what amounts to a firewall that seals off protected U.S. user data from unauthorized foreign access,” including the establishment of a new corporate entity to oversee the handling of U.S. user data.
He also assured lawmakers that TikTok’s approach has “never been to dismiss or trivialize” concerns about “unwanted foreign access to U.S. data and potential manipulation of the TikTok U.S. ecosystem.”
“Today, U.S. TikTok data is stored by default in Oracle’s servers,” the CEO said. “Only vetted personnel operating in a new company, called TikTok U.S. Data Security, can control access to this data.”
Chew said TikTok plans to take American user data and send it to an independent American board for review.
He added, “The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.