Who is TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew? Why is he testifying about app safety in US - where is TikTok banned

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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will speak to the US Congress as the threat of an American ban on the social media app looms

TikTok is the world’s most popular app, having been downloaded more times globally than older social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

The video-sharing app, which originally had a video-length limit of one minute launched in 2016 and became available worldwide two years later. The app has had a major impact on popular culture, and launched a whole new brand of influencers and entertainers.

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However, as tensions between the West and China increase, concerns over the safety of TikTok, which is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, have led to the app being banned on government devices in more than 30 countries.

Fears over how user data could be used has led to the US recently threatening to ban the app nationally, prompting TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, to testify before Congress.

The entrepreneur usually keeps a low profile, and has only a few thousand followers on the app himself. But Chew has found himself thrust into the spotlight as he is forced to defend the app on the world stage.

Shou Zi ChewShou Zi Chew
Shou Zi Chew | Getty Images

Who is Shou Zi Chew?

Shou Zi Chew, 40, is an entrepreneur from Singapore best known for being the CEO of social media video-sharing app TikTok.

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He studied at University College London and Harvard Business School before working as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs. He later worked for the Hong Kong venture capital firm DTS Global, and later became Chief Finance Officer (CFO) at Chinese phone company Xiaomi.

He became the CFO of ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, in March 2021. He was made CEO of TikTok later that year. The app is available in around 150 countries and has more than 1 billion monthly users. Chew is married to Tamarind Social CEO Vivian Kao, who he met whilst studying at Harvard. 

Chew’s net worth has been incorrectly estimated at a whopping $50 billion - but this is actually the figure for TikTok’s founder, Zhang Yiming, the world’s 25th richest person in 2022. 

According to New York Banner, Chew has a net worth of around $200 million, nothing to be sniffed at, but he’s still some way off billionaire status. 

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TikTok users gather in Washington DC to speak out against banning the app in the USTikTok users gather in Washington DC to speak out against banning the app in the US
TikTok users gather in Washington DC to speak out against banning the app in the US | Getty Images

Why is Shou Zi Chew testifying before Congress?

Chew appeared before a US congressional committee on 23 March to answer lawmakers’ questions about TikTok and the Chinese government’s access to US user data.

He also aimed to quell concerns about the impact of TikTok on the mental health of its users - roughly 71% of whom are 18-34 years old.

US President Joe Biden has suggested he could institute a national ban on TikTok if ByteDance doesn’t sell its shares in the app, ideally to an American company. The Biden administration has cited the possibility for the Chinese government to access the app’s data as a potential national security threat.

Shou told lawmakers that the app is not a client of China - he has previously stated that TikTok would never share user data with the Chinese government. However, his testimony does not seem to have assuaged the committees fears, and his emphasis on the reach TikTok has in the US may actually strengthen calls for a ban.

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Which countries have banned TikTok?

India, a country with a population of more than 1 billion, banned the app completely in 2020 by disabling downloads of TikTok and ordering internet service providers to block it.

The US, Canada, the UK, and EU have banned the use of the app on all government devices. These countries are yet to implement  a ban across the board affecting ordinary users of the app, but that may soon change.

The US, where an estimated one in three people (more than 100 million) use TikTok, is considering a complete ban. In a letter sent to lawmakers in June last year, ByteDance stressed that Chew is Singaporean.

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