TikTok Inc. is lawyering up internally as it copes with mounting scrutiny from US legislators and regulators keen on curtailing Chinese influence.
The company—owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.—has plans to hire up to 60 lawyers around the world this year, according to a source familiar with TikTok’s plans.
TikTok general counsel Erich Andersen, hired three years ago from Microsoft Corp., didn’t respond to a request for comment. Nor did Z. Julie Gao, a former Hong Kong-based partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who ByteDance recruited last year as its chief financial officer.
An online jobs board at TikTok currently lists nearly 100 openings for in-house legal positions at the video-sharing service. The postings, which include both lawyer and non-lawyer jobs, cover areas like regulatory affairs, privacy, product monetization, litigation, employment, compliance, and anti-money laundering.
“It certainly appears that TikTok is girding itself for battle and expects to be fighting simultaneously on several fronts,” said Yale Law School professor Jonathan Macey, who focuses on corporate governance. He called the hiring spree “a significant ramp-up of legal resources.”
TikTok is facing a growing scrutiny in Washington. CEO Shou Zi Chew is slated to testify before a House Committee March 23, as proposed bills to ban the app in the US or force its sale are pending in Congress.
Lawmakers and regulators have raised concerns about privacy, data security, and TikTok’s relationship with China’s government. Some have also criticized the popular app’s addictive nature, particularly among teenagers.
A bipartisan bill in the Senate would give the Biden administration the authority to force the sale of certain foreign-owned technologies, including TikTok. The administration has endorsed the bill, amid souring relations with China.
The move marks a change in course for President Joe Biden, who previously revoked Trump-era bans on TikTok and WeChat, another Chinese-owned social media app.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti is leading an effort by 46 states to probe TikTok’s impact on the mental health of children. Earlier this month, the Culver City, Calif.-based company said it would impose a 60-minute daily limit for users under 18.
TikTok has hired dozens of in-house lawyers within the past three years, including a global head of litigation in Emily Stubbs, who previously worked at ViacomCBS Inc., now Paramount Global.
Stubbs last month added two new senior litigators to her team—Katie Sluss and Regina Schaffer-Goldman—who both worked at Twitter Inc. Sluss served as head of litigation and regulatory for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa at Twitter, while Schaffer-Goldman was a senior litigation counsel.
Schaffer-Goldman and Slusswere were both swept up in the mass exits at Twitter following the social media company’s acquisition by Elon Musk.
TikTok also brought on head of global legal compliance Catherine Razzano, who most recently served as ethics and compliance chief at Panasonic Avionics Corp. She guided the company, a subsidiary of Panasonic Corp., through a two-year Justice Department monitorship.
TikTok hired former IHS Markit Ltd. ethics, compliance, privacy, and risk chief Jenny Chung Savidge to be its head of legal compliance for US data security. Christina MacDonald, a former head of legal and senior corporate counsel at Amazon.com Inc.’s Canadian business, also joined TikTok last year as its head of US product and trust and safety legal.
Advisers & Influence
Silicon Valley’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati has had a role on roughly 26% of cases involving TikTok in US federal courts, followed by King & Spalding at nearly 18%, according to Bloomberg Law data. Wilson Sonsini has been primary outside litigation counsel to TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, during that time. Keker, Van Nest & Peters has also represented ByteDance.
ByteDance spent nearly $10 million on lobbying in Washington during the past two years. The company had 13 people registered to lobby Congress last year on issues like privacy, data security, and content moderation.
ByteDance has also outsourced some work in Washington. The company paid a combined $542,000 last year to Mehlman Castagnetti, LGL Partners LLC, and law and lobbying firm K&L Gates. Barton Gordon, a former Democratic House member from Tennessee, has represented TikTok since 2019.
In the fourth quarter of last year, Gordon and three other K&L Gates advisers advocated for ByteDance on “internet companies,” competition matters, and the National Defense Authorization Act, according to a lobbying filing.
TikTok also paid $910,000 over the past two years to former Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott’s Crossroads Strategies LLC for lobbying on “internet technology and learning-enabled content platforms,” per public records.
The company’s in-house lobbying group is led by Michael Beckerman, a former congressional aide who heads TikTok’s Americas public policy division. It made a lobbying blitz last year, as TikTok executives and lobbyists engaged with 130 congressional offices over a three-month span.
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