U.S. TikTok Hysteria Teeters Toward The Idiotic
from the do-as-we-say,-not-as-we-do dept
Last Friday, the internet exploded with the news that Amazon was banning its employees from installing TikTok, the hugely popular social media app by Chinese company ByteDance. An entire day’s news cycle was dedicated to Amazon’s decision, with an ocean of press reports implying that the Chinese social networking platform was a privacy nightmare directly tethered to the Chinese government. The story came on the heels of months of allegations by the Trump administration that the app was doing things so vile and atrocious that the only solution was to ban the popular app from the United States entirely.
But then, at the end of the day, something odd happened. Amazon suddenly backtracked, stating that its announcement to employees urging them to uninstall TikTok was a mistake. An entire day’s news cycle, filled with allegations that TikTok was a privacy nightmare, was based on little more than an administrative brain fart.
It was just the latest example of how, upon closer inspection, much of the hysteria surrounding TikTok isn’t based on much of anything… substantive. There’s been no limit of pearl clutching from the Trump administration and its allies about the app, but when it comes to actual supporting evidence to justify an outright ban, there’s just not much of it beyond “it’s from China.” Case in point: Senator Ken Buck penned one of a flood of editorials over at Newsweek, declaring that TikTok was aggressively nefarious and a diabolical threat to US consumers:
There are a few problems there.
Three, numerous security experts have taken a very close look at the app and found absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. Four, the data Buck hyperventilates over is collected and shared by an absolute universe of companies and services thanks in large part to lax US privacy oversight and sloppy security practices. Given the endless security hacks, leaks, and data just left stupidly unsecured in the cloud, it’s not hard for Chinese intelligence — or anybody else with unlimited time and resources — to get a hold of this kind of data if it wants access to it. Banning TikTok without addressing a myriad of other issues doesn’t thwart that.
As such, if you’re genuinely concerned about US consumer privacy, banning TikTok isn’t going to do you much good. Chinese hardware is in literally everything, from your shitty router and “smart” fridge, to the millions of crappy internet of broken things devices Americans attach to their home and business networks with reckless abandon. Like the NSA, Chinese intelligence really doesn’t need TikTok to spy on Americans. There’s a million other attack vectors to choose from, most of which (like the IOT) we’re not actually doing much about, yet likely provide the Chinese government with far more data than TikTok ever could:
If you dropped a penny from the top of our list of legitimate cybersecurity concerns, it would hit TikTok sometime around 2023. Anyone making noise about this is telling you they?re a clown. https://t.co/ardPIuKY1h
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) July 16, 2020
The reality is that most of these lawmakers making such a heated stink about TikTok couldn’t give any less of a shit about US consumer privacy, rampant data collection, or ensuring US integrity from foreign operators with malicious intent (see: Mr. Putin). In fact, most have gone well out of their way to ensure privacy regulators like the FTC lack the resources or authority to police privacy. Most have worked tirelessly to kill any and every attempt at even the most modest of privacy laws, oppose improving election security, and were utterly absent during the biggest scandals of the era (see: wireless industry’s location data fracas).
Either you care about consumer privacy or you don’t, and the majority of those making the biggest noise about TikTok have made it clear, repeatedly, that they don’t. If we actually cared about US consumer privacy, we’d pass some baseline privacy protections, craft holistic strategies to tackle the IOT dumpster fire, heavily fund election security reform, stop tearing down and defunding our privacy regulators, and actually impose more than theatrical wrist slaps against companies–foreign and domestic–that are provably incompetent or downright malicious when it comes to data privacy and security.
Many of these lawmakers had nothing to say when it was revealed that US wireless carriers were selling access to sensitive location information to every nitwit with a nickel, including stalkers and those pretending to be law enforcement. Many (like Pompeo) cry endlessly about China’s hacking efforts, but do nothing to help fund election security. Many refuse to condone our failures to secure SS7 wireless network vulnerabilities likely exploited by most foreign intelligence agencies for the better part of the last decade.
DC’s hysteria over TikTok is oddly disconnected from our broader privacy and security failures, and intellectual consistency is utterly lacking. It’s also hard to imagine that DC in its current state is capable of separating our obvious domestic financial and competitive motivations from genuine national security concerns.
Yes, the Chinese government is a brutal authoritarian mess, and its treatment of Uighurs Muslims is utterly repugnant. But the idea that you can somehow fix Chinese authoritarianism or US privacy issues just by banning an app rife with dancing teens is laughable to the extreme.