Apple and TikTok skipped a Senate hearing on Big Tech and China, and empty seats show lawmakers aren't pleased

Senator Josh HawleyRepublican Senator Josh Hawley.REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

  • Senators Chuck Schumer and Marco Rubio have asked the US government to investigate TikTok about ties to China.
  • On Tuesday, the US Senate is holding a hearing on "How Corporations and Big Tech Leave Our Data Exposed to Criminals, China, and Other Bad Actors."
  • A Microsoft executive came to testify, while Apple and TikTok declined to send anyone.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Apple and TikTok didn't endear themselves to US Senators on Tuesday when both companies declined to send executives to speak at a Congressional hearing on Big Tech, consumer data, and China.

The missing tech execs were given the "empty seat treatment," according to Politico reporter Cristiano Lima, with their names prominently displayed on the vacant table and chair reserved for them.

 

Senator Josh Hawley has been one of the biggest critics of TikTok and of Big Tech in general, and he tweeted his disapproval at the companies that skipped the hearing.

 

Concerns about major tech companies' connections to China have grown in the past year. Short video app TikTok, which has been download over 1 billion times, in particular has been scrutinized for allegedly censoring content that could anger the Chinese government. In September, The Guardian reported on internal TikTok documents instructing the moderators to censor politically fraught topics including Tiananmen Square and an independent Tibet. The company said that these guidelines were no longer in use, and that the Chinese government has no control over them, because the app does not operate in China.

Senator Marco Rubio then asked for an investigation into TikTok parent company ByteDance's purchase of Musical.ly, another video app.

 

Then, Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton co-authored a letter asking US intelligence officials to investigate TikTok as a "potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore."

While TikTok skipped the hearing, the company published a blog post on Tuesday noting that its content moderation adhere to each region's local laws and guidelines, and that it stores data of US users in the US and Singapore, but not in China. While TikTok did not mention its no-show in Congress in the post, it vowed to "continue to work with the US government" on all the issues.  

Apple has also been under fire for removing an iPhone app from the app store that allowed protesters in Hong Kong to avoid violent clashes with the police. CEO Tim Cook met with one of China's chief regulators soon after. 

Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This isn't the first time a tech company has declined to send a spokesperson to a senate hearing concerning the company. Last year, Google was conspicuously absent from a senate hearing on election security that included Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg. The senate left a name tag and empty seat for Google CEO Larry Page, highlighting his absence.

Get the latest Google stock price here.

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