TikTok isn’t the threat that U.S. legislators and security experts are making it out to be, the Chinese video app’s chief said, adding that he’d defy President Xi Jinping if he demanded information.

“The data of TikTok is only being used by TikTok for TikTok users,” Alex Zhu said in a New York Times interview on Monday.

Zhu insisted Chinese authorities don’t control the company. “I would turn him down,” he said when asked what he would do if Xi asked him to take down a video or hand over user data.

He added that TikTok doesn’t censor videos China finds objectionable, nor does it share user information with the communist country or ByteDance. TikTok stores user data in Virginia and a backup server in Singapore, said Zhu, 40, also the founder of Musical.ly, a company purchased by ByteDance.

TikTok scrutiny by the U.S. government has soared as downloads for the short video site pass 750 million worldwide. The government is investigating TikTok’s relationship with China amid reports that its Beijing-based teams have restricted videos deemed subversive or controversial by the Chinese government, including political speech. U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Tom Cotton (R-Oklahoma) have asked Joseph McGuire, acting national intelligence director, to determine if TikTok and parent ByteDance presented “national security risks.” 

Furthermore, TikTok user data isn’t available to ByteDance AI programs, he said.

The company’s U.S. general manager, Vanessa Pappas, sought to ease suspicions that TikTok suppresses information such as videos of the Hong Kong protests. “We don’t take any action on any politically sensitive content as long as it goes along with our community guidelines,” she said.

  • ByteDance’s $1 billion purchase of the company Zhu founded is under a U.S. National Security Review, and is being probed by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, Reuters reported this month.
  • ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming is urging it to find users outside of its strongest markets as the U.S. steps up pressure, Reuters said today.