TikTok CEO Shou Chew finally took the stand in front of Congress yesterday. As many tech CEOs have done before him, he had to defend his company against an hours-long stream of sometimes fair, sometimes flawed, and sometimes just outright ridiculous questions from American representatives.
Among that last category was a line of questioning from North Carolina Republican Richard Hudson, who really, really wanted to know if TikTok was able to use, uh, home WiFi — the only clear takeaway there being that Hudson simply does not know how WiFi works.
"Mr. Chew, does TikTok access the home WiFi network?" Hudson asked a confused Chew, who looked as nonplussed by the question as you might imagine.
"Only if the user turns on the WiFi," Chew responded. "I'm sorry, I may not understand the question."
Chew's confusion is fair. If a user chooses to browse the internet on a WiFi network rather than their cellular data, of course the app will run on that network. But Hudson, who presumably thinks that accessing someone's WiFi is equivalent to accessing someone's cloud data, wasn't satisfied with Chew's answer.
"So if I have the TikTok app on my phone and my phone is on my home WiFi network, does TikTok access that network?" Hudson further prompted the CEO.
"It would have to — to access the network to get connections to the internet," Chew responded, "if that's the question."
Finally, after Hudson asked whether it was "possible, then, [for TikTok to] access other devices on that home WiFi network," Chew threw in the towel, telling the Congressman that TikTok does "not do anything that is beyond any industry norms."
"I believe the answer to your question is no," he added. "It could be technical. Let me get back to you."
— Bloomberg (@business) March 23, 2023
To be fair, Hudson wasn't the only rep whose questioning garnered some internet laughs, with Georgia Republican Buddy Carter's extremely misguided pupil dilation theory also making the rounds on Twitter and, naturally, TikTok.
My nominee for the “internet is a series of tubes” award questioning at today’s TikTok hearing goes to Rep. Buddy Carter: pic.twitter.com/rSwT7GdzSh
— Tim Hogan (@timjhogan) March 23, 2023
Of course, considering Congress' long history of putting on angry faces to ask tech CEOs questions that make absolutely no sense, none of this was, sadly, all that surprising to see. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, was once asked on the Congress floor to give advice on fixing broken VCRs that might be stuck "flashing 12:00," among other hard-hitting questions.
At the end of the day, the TikTok situation is complicated. It has done some seriously shady things — we're talking "spied on American journalists"-level shady — and though Americans' data privacy issues certainly don't begin or end with the Chinese app, lawmakers absolutely have reason to believe that it could be a national security risk.
Still, after hours of questioning, we're far from any sort of TikTok resolution, and the waters may be murkier than ever. And if there's any clear takeaway from this hearing, it unfortunately seems to be that while Big Tech woefully lacks regulation, Congress, as proven time and again, isn't exactly packed with tech geniuses equipped to make meaningful changes to the way that the industry operates.
READ MORE: Americans Love Using TikTok. Politicians Love Punching TikTok. [Slate]
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