Tech

TikTok chief, facing criticism over China ties, cancels meetings with US lawmakers

Key Points
  • TikTok says it will now hold meetings with lawmakers after the holidays, following initial reporting that its chief Alex Zhu was set to hold meetings this week.
  • Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., was among the lawmakers Zhu was scheduled to meet, her office confirmed. Blackburn has written directly to Zhu about her fear that Chinese officials could access user data from the app.
  • The U.S. Army has barred soldiers from using TikTok, and the app's parent company faces a national security review from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a person familiar with the matter has said.
Alex Zhu, founder of Musical.ly Inc., poses for a photograph in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The head of TikTok, which is facing scrutiny over its ties with China, is postponing meetings with U.S. lawmakers that were originally expected for this week, the social media site said.

"TikTok has no higher priority than ensuring Congress Members' questions are addressed fully and transparently. To ensure these conversations are as productive as possible, we're looking forward to holding these meetings after the holidays," a spokesperson said in a statement late Monday.

TikTok had requested meetings with lawmakers who suspect the company censors content in line with Chinese officials' preferences and that user data could be accessed by the Chinese government.

TikTok has repeatedly denied the allegations. In his first interview as chief of TikTok last month, Alex Zhu rejected all allegations of political censorship on the app. He told The New York Times that if Chinese President Xi Jinping asked him to remove a video or hand over user data, "I would turn him down."

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., tweeted Monday night that TikTok canceled the meeting scheduled for this week. He also implied that the company was taking orders from its Chinese parent company not to meet with U.S. lawmakers.

Hawley tweet.

The U.S. Army has barred soldiers from using the app following a national security concern, and TikTok's Chinese parent ByteDance faces a national security review from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. over its 2017 acquisition of TikTok precursor Musical.ly, a person familiar with the matter previously told CNBC.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., requested the review, claiming in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that there is "ample and growing evidence that TikTok's platform for Western markets, including the U.S., is censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese Government and Communist Party directives."

Rubio's office declined a meeting that TikTok had requested, a congressional aide said. Zhu was scheduled to meet with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., her office told CNBC. Blackburn wrote Zhu last month that she feared the app, popular with youngsters, "is paving the way for the Chinese government to gain unfettered and unsupervised access to our children's lives."

Despite TikTok's claims that it does not allow Chinese officials access to user data or censor content in line with the Chinese government's views, recent controversies have opened room for doubt. In a class-action suit filed last month, for example, a California student accused the company of secretly collecting data on users and transferring private user data to China.

Also last month, head of safety at TikTok Eric Han apologized to a 17-year-old user in New Jersey after the company disabled access to her account and briefly removed one of her viral videos in which she discussed China's mistreatment of the Uighur ethnic minority. Critics seized upon the move as evidence of the app's censorship on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Han said TikTok was reviewing the procedure that led to the removal and said the company would create "carve-outs for things like education and satire, as other platforms do."

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WATCH: TikTok sued in California for accusations of data transfer to China

Correction: An earlier version misstated the day of Hawley's tweet. It was Monday.

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TikTok sued in California for accusations of data transfer to China