TikTok executives are ramping up their charm offensive on Washington policymakers and avoid a ban ahead of the China-founded company’s CEO squaring off with House lawmakers at a hearing later this month.
The popular video-based platform is looking to persuade Washington that its new entity called TikTok U.S. Data Security will be walled off from China’s prying eyes.
The company’s interim security officer, Will Farrell, on Monday touted the new operation’s closeness with the U.S. government at the State of the Net Conference, where he immediately followed the Biden administration’s acting National Cyber Director Kemba Walden on the main stage.
“You heard Kemba mention the defense industrial base and being able to engage with them. When this is all said and done — the requirements around personnel — it’s going to be closer to working for a government contractor than it will be a tech company,” Mr. Farrell said.
The Biden administration has not announced a decision about whether to pursue banning the app nationwide, but Ms. Walden showed no signs of discomfort in passing the mic to the China-founded app’s American representative.
Mr. Farrell indicated data security is no laughing matter for TikTok’s new U.S. operation that he is helping to manage. He said the new TikTok would boast layers of approval by the American government over key personnel, including a board of directors.
Drawing upon his experience working for the major government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, he promoted TikTok’s work with another major government contractor, Oracle.
Mr. Farrell said Oracle would vouch for TikTok’s updated app and deliver it to Apple and Google app stores.
While Mr. Farrell appealed to a security-concerned audience, another TikTok executive made a more personal pitch at the conference that attracts tech workers, academics, students and internet policy enthusiasts.
Down the hall from the conference’s mainstage, TikTok privacy counsel Dayo Simms sat on a panel alongside tech policy professionals focused on children’s safety.
Ms. Simms said her company takes protecting kids seriously.
“We understand that there are harms and we understand that we have a responsibility,” Ms. Walden said. “And we’re constantly working to improve and so as we continue to improve, we’ll do what we can to make sure that kids are safe.”
Many lawmakers and tech observers dispute TikTok’s claims about its actions and intentions. Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican, introduced new legislation last month to empower the Biden administration to ban TikTok nationwide.
Mr. McCaul’s legislation would provide clearer legal authorization for President Biden to implement a ban. It advanced through the House Foreign Affairs Committee with no Democratic support last week.
Democratic lawmakers’ appetite for greater restrictions on TikTok, however, looks to be growing. Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, is set to join Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, to introduce new legislation o Tuesday that would address threats that the lawmakers say TikTok poses.
As the proposals to restrict TikTok mount, the company’s leader is preparing to get pummeled on Capitol Hill. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is set to grill TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew at a hearing on March 23.