Politico’s New Owner Heads To The Fainting Couch Over TikTok
from the ban-ALL-the-things! dept
New Politico owner and Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner has called for a ban on TikTok at the Vox Media Code conference. In fact, the lion’s share of the conference involved folks hyperventilating in one form or another over the existential threat posed by a popular social media app:
Like most of the folks freaking out about the social media app (see: FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr), Döpfner isn’t quite sure why the app is bad, he’s just damn certain it’s a foundational threat to democracy and should be banned in every country in the world. Because, apparently, it’s a “tool of espionage”:
“TikTok should be banned in every country,” he repeated, in his Q and A with journalist Kara Swisher and professor Scott Galloway. “We have at the moment a naïveté with dealing with China…. We hand over personal data to the Chinese government.” He added: “It is of course a tool of espionage.”
For one thing, Döpfner is a wealthy CEO of a media empire and currently sits on the Netflix board of directors. TikTok is a competitor in both market and mind share, so his motivation for a ban isn’t exactly without financial incentives. Most of the outlets covering his comments just float over the fact he’s got a fairly obvious financial conflict of interest right out of the gate.
But financial incentives aside, most of the folks generally freaking out about how TikTok “provides U.S. user data to the Chinese government” don’t really understand how the modern privacy landscape works, or that banning TikTok would be akin to trying to stop a river with a wink.
As we’ve noted several times, you could ban TikTok tomorrow with a giant patriotic hammer and the Chinese government could nab all the same U.S. consumer data from just an absolute parade of companies and dodgy data brokers. And they can do that because U.S. privacy and security standards have been a trash fire for decades, especially when it comes to things like sensitive user location data.
And they’ve been a trash fire for decades because most of the same folks crying about TikTok prioritized making money over consumer privacy standards. None of these folks, nor the operators of conferences like Code, seem particularly keyed in to any of this.
TikTok is a symptom of a much bigger problem when it comes to consumer privacy. There’s just a laundry list of dodgy, international and domestic companies hoovering up and selling your data to an absolute ocean of shady third parties with little to no oversight. So this idea that you can just “ban TikTok” and somehow cure the planet’s surveillance and propaganda ills is both juvenile and delusional.
There’s been a tendency among some performative politicians (see: Trump) to push scary TikTok stories for xenophobic, political, or cronyistic purposes, yet they turn a completely blind eye to the broader policy failures that made TikTok (and everybody else’s) lax privacy practices possible in the first place.
Much of the pseudo-hyperventilation about TikTok privacy is really about money. Facebook routinely pushes bogus moral panics about TikTok because it’s an existential threat to its fortunes. US telecom has a multi-decade history of riling up politicians about China. Döpfner tells a major conference TikTok should be banned worldwide because he wants the kids reading, watching and listening to his (and Netflix’s content), not TikTok’s.
The last thing on a lot of these folks minds is consumer privacy, the stability of U.S. Democracy, or the potential for mass manipulation. If they cared about those issues, they’d bring them up more than just as they relate to a single hugely popular social media app (that surely just coincidentally threatens their own market share, ad revenues, and ambitions).
Not only does getting DC all hot and bothered about TikTok help these companies, it helps feed xenophobia to a growing right wing base proud of its own bigotry. This kind of scary rhetoric, again, is of great benefit to any U.S. company that doesn’t want to compete with China, because it has a tendency to just turn policymaker brains off. Simplistic U.S. tech press coverage very much reflects this.
Yes, the Chinese authoritarian government routinely does terrible things, and there most certainly are legitimate discussions to be had as to how to actually shore up U.S. consumer privacy in the face of such threats (we very rarely actually do those things, nor are they even brought up at the Code conference, because actual meaningful policy is too boring to get clicks).
For most of these folks, hyperventilating about TikTok is a big dumb performance. One that collapses upon itself like a badly made paper mache art project under the most superficial inspection.