TikTok Names ByteDance’s Chew as New CEO; Pappas COO

TikTok, the popular short-video app, named ByteDance Ltd. Chief Financial Officer Shouzi Chew as chief executive officer, filling the top leadership position after the departure of Kevin Mayer last year. Vanessa Pappas, who has served as interim head, was named chief operating officer.

TikTok Names ByteDance’s Chew as New CEO; Pappas COO

Chew, who joined TikTok parent ByteDance last month, will remain in his post at the Chinese company, according to a statement Friday. Previously, Chew spent several years as CFO and international business president of Xiaomi Corp., where he took the gadget maker public in one of the largest-ever Chinese tech listings on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Chew, who hails from Singapore, is fluent in English and Chinese. He’s experienced in navigating the halls of Chinese tech companies and the boardrooms of banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., where he spent time in its investment banking unit. He also previously worked for Yuri Milner’s DST Global. The move to hire Chew is a sign ByteDance is moving toward an initial public offering of some of its businesses.

TikTok is still enjoying explosive popularity, but Chew will have to navigate the political tensions between the U.S. and China as well as increasing concerns about data privacy, especially involving children who populate the app.

“The leadership team of Shou and Vanessa sets the stage for sustained growth,” ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming said in the statement. “Shou brings deep knowledge of the company and industry, having led a team that was among our earliest investors, and having worked in the technology sector for a decade. He will add depth to the team, focusing on areas including corporate governance and long-term business initiatives.”

Pappas will maintain her current responsibilities, including managing TikTok’s key operations, the company said.

Mayer had left one of the top jobs at Walt Disney Co. last year to lead TikTok, which has become one of the world’s hottest apps with more than 100 million users in the U.S. alone. He departed only a few months later after former U.S. President Donald Trump ordered ByteDance to sell TikTok in the U.S. or face a ban, citing national security concerns over its Chinese ownership.

Zhang had discussed deals with a number of U.S. tech giants, including Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. but ultimately decided to wait out the crisis, anticipating less hostility after the presidential election. TikTok never signed a final agreement, and the deal remains stuck in limbo while the Biden administration conducts a review. There is no indication ByteDance will be forced to go through with the sale.

TikTok’s success is driven by a powerful algorithm that predicts what people want to see next. The app goes beyond even the systems used by Facebook Inc. or Snapchat. TikTok studies usage closely and considers hundreds of data points including what websites people browse and how they type, down to keystroke rhythms and patterns.

It’s this mountain of data, collected from a largely young user base, that underpinned the Trump administration’s concerns over what might happen if the information fell into the hands of the Chinese government, something TikTok has said it would never hand over.

In 2019, ByteDance was fined $5.7 million by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations that Musical.ly, which ByteDance bought and folded into TikTok, illegally collected information from minors. It was the largest FTC penalty in a children’s privacy case at the time. This month, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of millions of children in the U.K. and Europe over privacy concerns.

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