TikTok CEO says platform code will be made public in pushback against 'rumors and misinformation'

TikTok CEO says platform code will be made public in pushback against 'rumors and misinformation'
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Newly appointed TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer announced Wednesday that TikTok’s code will be made available for experts to study, as the company pushed back strongly against “rumors and misinformation” around its data security practices and ties to the Chinese government. 

“We believe our entire industry should be held to an exceptionally high standard,” Mayer, a former Disney executive who took over as CEO in May, wrote in a blog post. “That's why we believe all companies should disclose their algorithms, moderation policies, and data flows to regulators.”

He announced that TikTok “will not wait for regulation to come, but instead TikTok has taken the first step by launching a Transparency and Accountability Center for moderation and data practices. Experts can observe our moderation policies in real-time, as well as examine the actual code that drives our algorithms. This puts us a step ahead of the industry, and we encourage others to follow suit.”

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The move comes amid increasing concerns on Capitol Hill and in the Trump administration that the company, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, may be a national security threat due to its ties to China, where companies are subject to a national intelligence law that requires them to disclose sensitive data. 

The House recently approved legislation to ban TikTok from government devices, while Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Top House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing Democrats subpoena top aides to Pompeo MORE said earlier this month that the Trump administration is considering banning TikTok and other Chinese apps entirely due to security concerns. 

The company pushed back strongly on Wednesday and pointed to concerns that fairness and competition in the marketplace could be limited if TikTok is eliminated, particularly as Facebook prepares to roll out “Reels,” a similar video creation app. 

“Without TikTok, American advertisers would again be left with few choices,” Mayer wrote. “Competition would dry up and so too will an outlet for America's creative energy. We are not political, we do not accept political advertising and have no agenda – our only objective is to remain a vibrant, dynamic platform for everyone to enjoy.”

The company also sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders disputing allegations against it ahead of a much-anticipated hearing on antitrust concerns featuring testimony from the CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, particularly zeroing in on security concerns. 

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“Rumors and misinformation around TikTok proliferate throughout Washington and the media,” Michael Beckerman, vice president and head of U.S. public policy at TikTok, wrote to committee leaders. “We would like to take the opportunity to set the record straight.”

“TikTok is not available in China,” Beckerman emphasized. “We store Americans’ user data in the US, with back-up in Singapore, with strict access controls for employees. We have never provided any US user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked. Any allegations to the contrary are unfounded.”

The pushback from the company came the day after a group of Senate Republicans sent a letter to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence raising concerns that the Chinese Communist Party could use the app to interfere in U.S. elections and “manipulate” political conversations. 

Staffers on the campaign of presumptive presidential nominee former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump campaign emails supporters encouraging mask-wearing: 'We have nothing to lose' Cuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE were also told Tuesday to delete the app from their phones, following guidance from the Democratic National Committee that warned staffers not to use the app due to security concerns. The Republican National Committee has made a similar recommendation. 

TikTok has taken steps in recent months to distance itself from China, including hiring Mayer, moving American data storage to the U.S. and committing to hiring 10,000 more American workers over the next three years. 

“The TikTok team is working to do our part to provide an outlet for creativity and fun entertainment, while protecting user safety and privacy,” Beckerman wrote. “We are confident that TikTok will continue to give creators, users, and brands an entertaining outlet for many years to come, and we will take the necessary steps to make this happen.”