Who Is Shou Zi Chew, the TikTok CEO Facing Intense Public Scrutiny Right Now?
As scrutiny over TikTok reaches a breaking point, CEO Shou Zi Chew finds himself in a peculiar position. The United States government is looking to ban the app, and Chew is right there, front and center, to defend the company's practices. Unfortunately, his appearance before the panel last March is a clear indication that the app's future in the country is in jeopardy.
Not much is known about Shou Zi Chew, or how TikTok exactly operates under his leadership. Speaking to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee last March, the embattled CEO faced the public for the first time. There, he answered questions about the app's user privacy policies, data security, and alleged ties to China.
Suffice it to say, we have a long way to go before we see TikTok get banned in the U.S. Here is what we know so far about Chew and the next steps following the hearing.
Who Is Shou Zi Chew?
The general public doesn't exactly know much about Chew. But he is, however, respected within tech communities in the U.S. and China.
Chew is a self-described "Singaporean based in Singapore" who attended Hwa Chong Institution before serving as a commissioned officer in the Singapore Armed Forces. He would go on to attend and graduate from University College London with a Bacher of Economics degree. The TikTok CEO would then attend Harvard Business School, where he completed his Master of Business Administration degree. During his MBA, he interned for then-start-up Facebook.
The Singaporean entrepreneur spent five years at the investment firm DST followed by a stint with Goldman Sachs for another two years. Chew was also once the chief financial officer and international president of Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi.
Meanwhile, the team he worked with at DST became early investors of the global incubator ByteDance, of which TikTok is a subsidiary. In 2021, he joined ByteDance as its chief financial officer, as well. Two months later, he would become TikTok's CEO after the shock resignation of his predecessor Kevin Mayer.
What Happens Next for Him and TikTok?
For some context, Chew faced the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce as the clamor for TikTok to get banned gains traction in the U.S. There are approximately 150 million Americans on TikTok today, and national security experts have raised concerns over the app becoming a Chinese propaganda tool. He was also questioned over ByteDance's ties with the Chinese Communist Party.
As it stands, TikTok is banned on any federal government device in the U.S, including in the military. The American Supreme Court, on the other hand, is investigating ByteDance for possible data breaches and security issues.
During the hearing, the 40-year-old Chew confirmed that user data can indeed be accessed by its Chinese parent company ByteDance. “We rely on global interoperability, and we have employees in China, so yes, the Chinese engineers do have access to global data," he said in front of that panel.
The Singaporean CEO, however, squashed concerns about data security by reassuring the panel that U.S. user data is protected from unauthorized foreign access through a firewall.
"Today, U.S. TikTok data is stored by default in Oracle's servers," the CEO added. "Only vetted personnel operating in a new company, called TikTok U.S. Data Security, can control access to this data... The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel."
The Harvard-educated entrepreneur also explained that he has never spoken to a Chinese government official since joining TikTok. He also claims that he has no evidence to present that says that users' data had been accessed by the Chinese government. According to him, TikTok will be sending American user data to an independent American board for review.
Chew also pointed out that its practices are no different from its competitors during the heated five-hour hearing. At one point, Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the committee, simply told the CEO: “Your platform should be banned.”
The app nevertheless faces uncertainty moving forward as more U.S. state officials' suspicions grow.