Banning TikTok Will Accomplish Nothing. Fix Our Broader Security & Privacy Problems Instead.

from the adulting-is-hard dept

Earlier this month I noted how the calls to ban TikTok didn't make a whole lot of sense. For one thing, a flood of researchers have shown that TikTok isn't doing anything any different than a flood of foreign and domestic services. Secondly, the majority of the most vocal pearl clutchers over the app (Josh Hawley, etc.) haven't cared a whit about things like consumer privacy or internet security, suggesting it's more about politics than policy. The wireless industry SS7 flaw? US cellular location data scandals? The rampant lack of any privacy or security standards in the internet of things? The need for election security funding?

Most of the folks hyperventilating about TikTok haven't made so much as a peep on these other subjects. Either you actually care about consumer privacy and internet security or you don't, and a huge swath of those hyperventilating about TikTok have been utterly absent from the broader conversation. In fact, many of them have done everything in their power to scuttle any effort to have even modest privacy guidelines for the internet era, and fought every effort to improve and properly fund election security. Again, that's because, for many it's more about politics than serious, adult tech policy.

That's not to say there aren't security concerns when it comes to installing Chinese-made apps on American devices, but that same argument can be made (but somehow isn't) for an absolute ocean of foreign and domestic services, hardware, and apps. Over the weekend, Kevin Roose at the New York Times made some similar points, noting that things tend to get stupid when you fuse politics with policy and domestic financial interests with national security (especially given lobbyists adore taking advantage of the lack of transparency in the latter):

"There are also reasons to be skeptical of the motives of TikTok’s biggest critics. Many conservative politicians, including Mr. Trump, appear to care more about appearing tough on China than preventing potential harm to TikTok users. And Silicon Valley tech companies like Facebook, whose executives have warned of the dangers of a Chinese tech takeover, would surely like to see regulators kneecap one of their major competitors."

It took a while for this opinion to form out of the internet news and policy murk, but it's nice to see folks realizing that banning TikTok, but doing nothing about an absolute ocean of foreign and domestic hardware, services, and apps that pose similar threats, is kind of pointless and stupid:

"I’ll be honest: I don’t buy the argument that TikTok is an urgent threat to America’s national security. Or, to put it more precisely, I am not convinced that TikTok is inherently more threatening to Americans than any other Chinese-owned app that collects data from Americans. If TikTok is a threat, so are WeChat, Alibaba and League of Legends, the popular video game, whose maker, Riot Games, is owned by China’s Tencent.

And since banning every Chinese-owned tech company from operating in America wouldn’t be possible without erecting our own version of China’s Great Wall — a drastic step that would raise concerns about censorship and authoritarian control — we need to figure out a way for Chinese apps and American democracy to coexist."

But the piece goes a step further in smartly arguing that if you want to deter TikTok-esque privacy issues, you're better off fixing the underlying rot that has resulted in the cavalier treatment of consumer data. And using TikTok as an example of how to do security and privacy oversight correctly, you start by forcing the company to embrace open source, by finally getting off our collective, befuddled asses and passing a basic but tough US privacy law, by demanding greater transparency of TikTok (and every other company), and by ending our myopic view of security and privacy:

"I think TikTok is a bit of a red herring,” Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer and a professor at Stanford University, told me in an interview. Ultimately, Mr. Stamos said, the question of what to do about TikTok is secondary to the question of how multinational tech giants in general should be treated.

“This is a chance to come up with a thoughtful model of how to regulate companies that operate in both the U.S. and China, no matter their ownership,” he said."

Granted that requires nuance and a holistic view of the real problem, and that's the last thing most of the folks crying about TikTok want. And they don't want that because they're not genuinely interested in consumer privacy and internet security, they're interested in putting on a little stage play for political reasons. Adult, good faith tech policy solutions that solve actual, real world problems is the very last thing on most of their minds.

Filed Under: china, privacy, security
Companies: tiktok


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2020 @ 1:39pm

    Maybe there's no votes in criticising the flaws in various American apps and services and the lack of protection for cunsumer privacy in online services.
    It's much easier to criticise a very popular app because its made by a Chinese company.
    And it has 1 billion users.
    It's the most popular app for young users because its easy to use and well designed.
    Of courser in the past Facebook has simply bought
    apps that compete with it and have millions of users.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 29 Jul 2020 @ 2:34pm

    The broader security and privacy problems

    The wireless industry SS7 flaw? US cellular location data scandals? The rampant lack of any privacy or security standards in the internet of things? The need for election security funding?

    Throw in the constant attacks on encryption, too.

    The government can work all these things to it's benefit. Most of them help make spying on Americans trivially easy. And with extremely poor election security, either faction can cry "Foul!" The current corrupt government has no reason to even try to fix these things. The upcoming election will undoubtedly be interesting, in a scary as shit kind of way. According to AG Barr's waffling, a postponement is not out of the question. Postponements can easily morph into cancellations.

    And these buffoons are whining about TikTok?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2020 @ 3:09pm

    The only problem this administration is seeking to fix

    ... is Trump's lack of (re-)electability. To that end picking a false flag fight with a Chinese company is just fine by them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jul 2020 @ 4:27pm

      Re: The only problem this administration is seeking to fix

      November is coming, the polls say many gop members will be looking for a job.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 29 Jul 2020 @ 11:09pm

    "Banning TikTok Will Accomplish Nothing"

    There's only one thing it's intended to fix - Trump's ego was bruised by users of that platform causing him to look even more like an idiot than normal, and on one of the few occasions his dull wit was able to recognise how dumb he really looked, so he needs revenge. That's it - the orange baby needs his tantrum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 1:41am

    Banning TikTok is good

    Banning TikTok is good. Not because it spies on its users.

    It's good because it the teaches people the kind of spying that goes on.

    This will make people more aware of the other apps are no better than TikTok.

    Then we well see demand for better security and privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 30 Jul 2020 @ 2:06am

      Re: Banning TikTok is good

      "This will make people more aware of the other apps are no better than TikTok."

      It really won't. Lots of people know about the spying, as they do with Facebook, Google and everything else they use. They just don't care about it. Ban Tik Tok, and all you'll have is a lot of pissed off users who start using a similar service with the same privacy issues.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 5:36am

      Re: Banning TikTok is good

      "Then we well see demand for better security and privacy."

      There is demand for better security and privacy, always has been, but you are not going to get it no matter how much demand there is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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