TikTok, the viral video app popular with millions of American teenagers, attracted blistering criticism on Capital Hill this week for postponing meetings with lawmakers over its privacy practices and business ties to China.
Executives with the Chinese-owned app had requested a meeting with several members of Congress to address ongoing concerns regarding its treatment of user information and alleged censorship practices, particularly around the Hong Kong protests and the plight of Uighur Muslims, the marginalized group targeted by the Chinese government.
But by Monday, TikTok chief executive Alex Zhu had canceled meetings until after the holidays, ostensibly to ensure the conversations are "productive." Zhu was reportedly expected to meet with Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida.
"TikTok has no higher priority than ensuring Congress members' questions are addressed fully and transparently. To ensure these conversations are as productive as possible, we're postponing these meetings until after the holidays," according to a statement from TikTok.
The cancellation sparked criticism from lawmakers already distrustful of the company for its close business ties with China.
"NEWS: @tiktok_us just cancelled their meeting with me this week. Not willing to answer questions. Get a call from Beijing?" Senator Hawley tweeted Monday.
TikTok was also reportedly meeting with Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, who called out the company numerous times for its data gathering practices for children and for not talking to lawmakers.
TikTok maintains that its U.S. business operations are separate from its Beijing counterpart, Douyin. But the cancellation this week, the second time the company has postponed a meeting with U.S. officials, sparked further criticism that the social media company is "reticent."
"They say that this is about logistics, but it's pretty clear that the company, which is the world's most valuable startup, ByteDance, based in China, has some pretty strong differences from regulators in D.C.," Dan Patterson, a senior producer at CNET, told CBSN.
"It is a pattern that we see that regulators, even reporters, ask a question and there is this reticence to engage," Patterson added.
TikTok was also criticized after suspending a user last month after the Afghan-American teenager posted a videowhile giving a makeup tutorial. The social media company backtracked and issued a public apology after facing backlash for the removal.