Marco Rubio Pretends To Be A TikTok Privacy Champion, Despite Years Of Undermining U.S. Consumer Privacy
from the yeah-you're-not-helping dept
Most of the politicians you currently see in the headlines having an absolute embolism over TikTok privacy concerns, don’t seem to appreciate (or don’t want you to understand) how they helped create the problem they’re pretending to be so upset about.
The FCC’s Brendan Carr, for example, has been enjoying massive press coverage for weeks after he demanded Google and Apple ban TikTok from their app stores over privacy issues (a request he lacks the regulatory authority to even make). But Carr has historically opposed privacy reform or guidelines of any kind, creating the environment that opened the door to TikTok’s behavior.
Marco Rubio is another Senator eager to get his name in press lights as a privacy advocate, despite contributing to the problem he claims to be fixing. Rubio and Senator Mark Warner (himself a bit of a dumpster fire on numerous tech policy issues), this week, sent a letter to the FTC asking the agency to investigate TikTok privacy abuses:
“In light of repeated misrepresentations by TikTok concerning its data security, data processing, and corporate governance practices, we urge you to act promptly on this matter,” the senators wrote FTC Chair Lina Khan.
This latest wave of TikTok moral panic began after Buzzfeed reported that U.S. user TikTok data was being shared with Chinese ByteDance executives overseas, in contrast to previous company promises. The big fear is that TikTok will share U.S. user data with the Chinese government. And the Buzzfeed revelations indicate that TikTok’s promises on privacy may not be worth much.
There are a few problems here. One, TikTok’s sloppy protection of U.S. user data, and flimsy promises as to how that data is handled, is in no way out of the ordinary for foreign and domestic companies.
Two, you could destroy TikTok today and the Chinese government could still buy this (and more) dataset(s) from a wide variety of dodgy adtech, telecoms, or data brokers. Why? Because we’ve created a global free for all data collection snoopvertising ecosystem with zero functional oversight and prioritized making money over consumer welfare. Repeatedly. For decades.
Marco Rubio has routinely voted against even modest privacy safeguards. Like he did in 2017 when he and the entirety of the GOP used the Congressional Review Act to demolish modest FCC broadband privacy safeguards after receiving thousands of dollars from telecom giants.
Most of the same folks now posturing on TikTok refuse to adequately fund or staff the FTC and FCC, and work pretty consistently to undermine oversight regulatory authority in high abuse sectors. These folks also oppose absolutely any state or federal privacy laws or reform.
They’ve actively cultivated an environment where there’s zero repercussions for being sloppy on U.S. consumer data, now posture on a single company’s abuse of an environment they created. And in many cases, like Carr and Rubio, they’ve had absolutely no comment on how this environment they created will now be exploited by authoritarians and radicals post Roe.
If you want to “fix” TikTok, you need to fix the broader ecosystem of lax privacy and security standards and penalties. Just freaking out about TikTok isn’t enough. Demanding the FTC (you’ve intentionally stripped of funding and authority over 30 years) investigate isn’t enough, as the best possible end result will almost certainly be a flimsy fine TikTok lawyers can tap dance over, under, and around.
Keep in mind, a lot of these folks are just posturing. In some cases, they’re part of an ongoing K Street campaign by Facebook to smear TikTok. In other instances, they just want to justify stealing TikTok and offloading it to U.S. companies (like Trump tried to do with Walmart and Oracle). In other instances, they’re just interested in agitating and animating the base with xenophobic moral panics to boost their political aspirations.
But for so many of these guys (Carr and Rubio in particular) you can’t look at their policy track record and honestly believe that consumer privacy reform has ever, for a single moment, been a genuine priority.