TikTok, the wildly popular social app, is reportedly on the hunt for a CEO based in the US in a move that could help to appease mounting concerns over how its ties to the Chinese government have posed threats to user censorship and national security.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that candidates have been interviewed „in recent months“ to fill the CEO position at TikTok. The US-based CEO would work alongside TikTok’s China-based chief, Alex Zhu, and Vanessa Pappas, who currently oversees TikTok’s US operations out of its Los Angeles office.
It’s still unclear how exactly the new leadership structure for TikTok would work, but Bloomberg says the US-based CEO could potentially be in charge of the app’s „non-technical functions“ – relating to advertising and operations.
TikTok’s roots are currently embedded in China, where its parent company, ByteDance, is located. These ties to China have earned TikTok intense scrutiny from US lawmakers, who have major concerns over the risks it poses to cybersecurity and user privacy, as well as its influence over censoring content.
ByteDance’s search for a US-based CEO for TikTok may be the company’s latest strategy to appease concerns from the US government. Reports back in December indicated TikTok was looking to set up new headquarters outside of China to further its distance from the Chinese government.
TikTok’s meteoric rise has been well-documented. The app, a place for making and sharing short viral videos, has more than 1.5 billion downloads worldwide, and is outperforming popular social competitors like Instagram and Snapchat. It’s been a launchpad for internet comedy and memes, and has become one of the go-to apps for the teens of Generation Z.
In past months, the US government has put mounting pressure on TikTok in response to what it sees as national security concerns. The US government opened a national security investigation back in November examining the relationship between the platform and the Chinese government, and the US army banned soldiers from using TikTok on government-issued phones and devices earlier this month.
Zhu, the TikTok chief, had planned to meet with US lawmakers in December about these concerns, but the meetings were canceled last minute. Nonetheless, TikTok has consistently defended itself by asserting that none of its moderators are based in China, and that no „foreign government“ asks the platform to censor content.
Others have raised concerns that the ties between China and TikTok puts the privacy of users‘ data at risk. A class-action lawsuit was recently filed in California by a college student who alleges that her private information and unpublished content was accessed by TikTok without her permission and stored on servers in China. TikTok settled another lawsuit in December 2019 related to children’s privacy, paying out $1.1 million related to allegations that the app collected the information of children under 13 without their parents‘ consent.
TikTok has also faced allegations that it censors „culturally problematic“ and political content that could be seen as offensive to the Chinese government, according to former employees‘ reports to The Washington Post and documents obtained by The Guardian and the German blog Netzpolitik. When pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong earlier this year, TikTok was curiously devoid of any hints of unrest, and videos instead documented a prettier picture.