White House Uses TikTok Sibling Company App on Same Day as Congressional Hearing

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and President Joe Biden
March 24, 2023

As TikTok's CEO faced withering scrutiny on Capitol Hill over the company's links to China, the Biden White House shared a social media post made using technology from the Chinese spyware app's sister company.

The White House used CapCut, a popular app owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance, to make a video reel posted to Instagram, a Washington Free Beacon analysis of the post found. While CapCut has received far less scrutiny than TikTok, its links to ByteDance have caused concern that China could scoop up data on users of the app. A technology think tank funded by a former Google CEO says CapCut poses national security "challenges," particularly "with respect to data harvesting, data exploitation, and—possibly—covert influence."


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The White House (@whitehouse)

The White House reel touts the Affordable Care Act as "the law of the land" and shows President Joe Biden walking with his former boss, Netflix partner Barack Obama. The background music and special effects originated from a CapCut template that has gone viral this month, according to one source. Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) recently used the exact same template in a TikTok post for his California Senate campaign.


♬ Happy with you - Official Sound Studio

The White House video comes amid heightened concern about ByteDance and its connections to the Chinese government. American intelligence officials have said that the Chinese government, which owns shares of ByteDance, could use data collected by the company and its subsidiaries to spy on Americans, or flood their social media feeds with pro-Beijing propaganda.

Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, did little to alleviate concerns during his House testimony on Thursday. Chew repeatedly dodged questions about whether TikTok would provide data to the Chinese government if requested. He also refused to acknowledge that the Chinese government has carried out human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in western China.

The Biden administration recently banned TikTok from government-issued phones. While the latest video was most likely created on a government phone, the administration has not banned CapCut from federal devices.

Though CapCut is not as popular as TikTok, its data storage policies could stoke concerns that Americans' data will fall into the hands of the Chinese government. CapCut's privacy policy says it collects photos and videos that users upload from their phones, in addition to details like users' locations, genders, and birthdays, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"We have concerns on data privacy and security with TikTok, so I don't doubt an app from the same parent company would also elicit concerns from us," Jane Chung, the Big Tech accountability advocate at the consumer group Public Citizen, told the Washington Examiner.

The Special Competitive Studies Project, a technology think tank funded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, lists CapCut as one of the Chinese apps that "pose similar challenges" to American security as TikTok, "particularly with respect to data harvesting, data exploitation, and—possibly—covert influence."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.