Questions like 'Does TikTok use WiFi' shows that US Congress isn’t equipped to legislate tech


TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee members on Thursday, facing a volley of questions regarding allegations of TikTok being a massive spying tool for China and the CCP.

While the hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee did not go as well as TikTok and CEO Shou would have hoped for, what was staggering for tech reporters who were closely following the hearing, was the kind of questions that were put up.

Some of these questions have highlighted, yet again, that most American politicians are woefully equipped to legislate tech in any way. 

Questions that left a lot to be asked
Some of the questions that were put before Chew were not only inarticulate and incoherent, they exposed that some of the members who were tasked with grilling TikTok and its CEO, lack a basic understanding of tech and how data and tech function.

Also read: US lawmakers grill TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, call for ban

Case in point would be Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC) of the Republicans, who put up a rather bizarre question to CEO Chew. He asked, if TikTok accessed the home WiFi network of a user. 

Not able to understand the question at first, Chew replied saying “Only if the user turns on the WiFi, I am sorry, I may not understand the question.”

To this, Rep. Hudson elaborated, “If I have the TikTok app on my phone, and my phone is on my home WiFi network, does TikTok have access to that network?”

To this, CEO Chew replied by saying what any person with a basic understanding of tech would say. “It will have to access the network to get connection to the Internet, if that’s the question.”

Missed opportunities
While some people have argued that the question that Rep. Hudson asked was valid, people don’t seem to understand the damage that such questions have on the hearing. 

A much better question would have been “If my phone has the TikTok app, and my phone is connected to my Home’s WiFi network, does TikTok have access to other devices on my Home WiFi?”

Because of the way the question was framed by Rep. Hudson, two things happened. First, TikTok wouldn’t have been able to set the narrative of how it gets connected to the internet, and what protocols does it follow in that regard.

Second, and more importantly, a very important line of questioning was missed because of how the question was framed. Irrespective of how CEO Chew would have responded ot the question, knowing what we know about TikTok and its practices, it would have opened up a pandora’s box for TikTok and its CEO at the hearing. This would have definitely put him in a tighter spot.

Congress’ history of inadequacy
This isn’t the first time when the US Congress’ inability to deal with tech companies was in display. Back in 2018, when Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify before Congress, these were some of the questions he was asked to answer.

  • “If I’m emailing within WhatsApp … does that inform your advertisers?”
  • “Mr. Zuckerberg… Hypothetically, if someone’s VCR won’t stop flashing 12:00, how would you suggest they fix that?”
  • “Mr. Zuckerberg, a magazine i recently opened came with a floppy disk offering me 30 free hours of something called America On-Line. Is that the same as Facebook?”
  • “Is Twitter the same as what you do?”
  • “Would you bring some fiber, because we don’t have connectivity?”

More than an enquiry or an investigation, the line of questioning became a tech support channel of sorts. 

Luckily, with TikTok, the line of questioning was still somewhat better. Even if it wasn’t on point, it was still a lot closer than what we have seen in the past.

US Congress is eager to ban TikTok
Having said that, it was pretty evident that US lawmakers are very keen on banning TikTok if TikTok doesn’t cut its ties with China and ByteDance.

Some of the answers that TikTok’s CEO gave at the hearing, certainly did not help his case. When he was asked by Republican Congressman Neal Dunn of Florida, if ByteDance has ever spied on American citizens, CEO Chew responded by saying “I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it.”

Also read: ‘Chinese govt doesn’t own the company’: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies before US Congress amid ban threat

Given the stakes for the business and its users, as well as lawmakers’ propensity for inciting anti-China sentiment, Thursday’s TikTok was combustible in form even if not in function. With legislators frequently choosing to demonstrate rather than allow their solitary witness to speak and others failing to grasp the fundamental features of the app in question, Thursday’s meeting was more bark than bite.

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Questions like 'Does TikTok use WiFi' shows that US Congress isn’t equipped to legislate tech
Questions like 'Does TikTok use WiFi' shows that US Congress isn’t equipped to legislate tech
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