FCC’s Carr Once Again Heads To The Fainting Couch Over TikTok

from the performative-face-fanning dept

A week or two ago we noted how there was a mass panic because TikTok was found to be sharing U.S. user data with executives at the company’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance. This was in stark contrast to the strict, U.S.-based data management controls the company claimed to be implementing, and, to be clear, was not a good thing.

But while this showcased how TikTok’s privacy standards are often performative, it wasn’t truly all that different than what happens with countless other domestic and international companies with shitty privacy practices. Vast troves of varying US consumer behavior, location, and browsing and app datasets are bought and sold everyday in the largely unaccountable telecom/adtech/app/hardware data world without anywhere near the same level of hyperventilation TikTok receives.

There’s a tendency among some performative politicians (see: Trump) to specifically single out what TikTok is doing on this front for xenophobic, political, or cronyistic purposes, yet turn a complete blind eye to the broader policy failures that made TikTok (and everybody else’s) lax privacy practices possible in the first place.

That’s been a particular habit of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, whose public record shows he literally could not give any less of a shit about any of the vast privacy abuses in a sector he actually regulates (telecom), yet loves to head to the fainting couches any time TikTok is mentioned.

Like this week, when Carr sent a letter to Google and Apple demanding they kick TikTok from the app store because he’s just super concerned about American consumer privacy!

If you were to dig through the resulting news reports covering Carr’s empty letter, you’d be hard pressed to find a single one that could be bothered to note that Carr doesn’t have any regulatory authority over social media or app stores, the letter has absolutely no meaningful legal backing to support his request, or that Carr himself has absolutely zero credibility on consumer privacy issues.

Yeah, there are serious concerns about TikTok user security and privacy. But there’s equal concern about the privacy violations in the telecom sector Carr actually regulates. And in adtech. And in the internet of things space. And in Chinese-made routers and other hardware. And among app makers, and data brokers, smart TV makers, Wi-Fi-connected toys, modern vehicles, and….

Carr’s voting and policy record has made it pretty clear he doesn’t care about any of that. The sector Carr actually regulates, telecom, has been plagued with a parade of location data scandals showcasing how cellular carriers have repeatedly failed to protect user location data, often to devastating effect. Carr’s been largely a no show on the subject, despite its increased relevance post Roe.

Several former officials who worked with Carr to help AT&T kill net neutrality and lobotomize the FCC’s consumer protection authority have since gone on to work at Targeted Victory, a right wing K Street policy and lobbying shop recently busted trying to smear TikTok on behalf of Facebook. Surely that’s just a weird coincidence, though.

Not only does pushing scary stories about TikTok help Facebook, it helps feed xenophobia to a growing right wing base proud of its own bigotry. This kind of scary rhetoric is of great benefit to any U.S. company that doesn’t want to compete with China. Of course Carr’s letter also does something else incredibly important (to Carr), it puts his name in headlines for no real reason.

As recently noted, you could demolish TikTok today with a giant patriotic hammer and the Chinese government could just nab much of the same data from any number of unaccountable app makers, telecoms, ad brokers, or hardware giants. And they can do that because we have garbage privacy standards, no functional privacy laws with any teeth, and zero accountability.

That’s directly thanks to politicians like Carr, who don’t believe in meaningful privacy oversight, laws, or guidelines of any kind.

It’s extremely easy for U.S. companies like Facebook or Cisco to use politicians as marionettes to create or feed moral panics about China. But the underlying motivations usually have absolutely nothing to do with a genuine interest in US consumer privacy or security. Made evident by those same politicians’ completely hollow track record when it comes to tackling the broader problem.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , , , ,
Companies: apple, google, tiktok

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Comments on “FCC’s Carr Once Again Heads To The Fainting Couch Over TikTok”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Merriam-Webster defines irregardless as “nonstandard” but meaning the same as “regardless.” “Many people find irregardless to be a nonsensical word, as the ir- prefix usually functions to indicates negation; however, in this case it appears to function as an intensifier,” the dictionary writes.

Source: https://www.npr.org/2020/07/07/887649010/regardless-of-what-you-think-irregardless-is-a-word

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:


Brendan Carr is not making a general call for a competitor to tiktok. He is using his role as a telecom regulator to call for a ban of the tiktok app on the two biggest app stores in the US on the basis of consumer privacy.

Karl points out that he has repeatedly ignored calls for investigations of US companies under his control on the basis of consumer privacy.

Karl points out that former FCC officials are currently employed for the purpose of lobbying for a tik tok ban on behalf of facebook, who seeks to regain its top seat by banning the competition (whats wrong with competition, am I right?) and hints that soft (read: legal) corruption may be in play.

Karl notes that a ban of TikTok does not fix the underlying issue Carr has a problem with – lax data privacy that allows China (and only China, apparently, I’d have assumed that India’s scam markets might also be an issue) to harvest consumer data. That we have an ocean of data to harvest and TikTok is simply one river feeding it.

Finally Karl provides a solution that FCC commissioner Carr should advocate for to resolve his stated privacy concerns without targeting Facebook’s competition: Actual data privacy laws.

Notice ‘Orange man bad’ isn’t part of that logic chain. Note that Karl hasn’t implicated the truth of the privacy concerns themselves. He is only stating that, possibly due to bad motives, Carr has not identified a solution to the presented problem.

It is a logical fallacy to assume that if a premise is true (TikTok feeds US data to chinese servers) that the conclusions are also true (Banning tiktok meaningfully affects the ability of the Chinese to gather US data).

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Koby (profile) says:

Throw The Book

We keep saying how we’re sick of these data breaches. Now that there’s an intentional data breach, to Chinese spy agencies, suddenly we get an author who doesn’t want any accountability beyond a little slap on the wrist. If an American company facilitated a data transport to the ChiComs, then we would be demanding the corporate death penalty for that company.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:


… suddenly we get an author who doesn’t want any accountability beyond a little slap on the wrist.

I have to admire your talent at misreading and misconstruing, sir. That is perhaps the opposite of what the author is actually saying in this post.

I’ll not bother restating the author’s point, since you deliberately sidestepped it.

Naughty Autie says:


If an American company facilitated a data transport to the ChiComs, then we would be demanding the corporate death penalty for that company.

And yet nobody’s said a word about these <a href=’https://prepareforchange.net/2021/10/15/list-of-us-companies-secretly-owned-by-china-tesla-microsoft”>formerly American companies owned by Chinese corporations.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re: Re:2

You are correct, Congress is comprised of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

I know. I was sardonically making the point that a Brit like me knows the basic composition of Congress better than an American like Strawb.

It’s high school civics material, but most people seem to be confused.

Not me, and I find that knowledge to be so basic I’m surprised they don’t teach it in elementary school. Talk about under-education. (-_Q)

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Privacy is important!... for those VERY specific companies.'

It’s always strange how all that concern over user privacy and data collection only applies to a select few tech companies, vanishing into the empty air the second you look to see if any other companies or industries might have ‘lax’ privacy/data standards.

Can’t imagine why though…

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s not the entire FCC that wants to give the bum’s rush to TikTok, it’s only Carr. Don’t forget, #45 placed him there for this specific purpose, to rabble-rouse against TT, and to irritate the Chinese. (Well, that and to try and get the FCC to “take a look at changing or removing Section 230”.)

Why, you ask? Because you forgot that not so long ago, users on TikTok flooded the on-line ticket booth for #45’s Tulsa rally, and when that unworthy crowed from the Presidential Palace that he had over a million people coming, then had barely 6,000 show up, he was PISSED at TikTok. It’s his personal mission in life to screw over TT, and if the Chinese get a little bad press as well, that’d be just fine as well.

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