from the teen-dancing-is-the-greatest-threat-the-nation-has-ever-faced dept
We’ve noted repeatedly how the massive freak out over TikTok is kind of dumb and myopic, with folks singularly fixated on TikTok, but not the lax global adtech, data broker ecosystem we built that helped create it in the first place.
We’ve also noted that most of the U.S. policy solutions for the supposed threat posed by TikTok (that it will be used by the Chinese government to spy on and brainwash your children) have been equally stupid. Like that time Trump pretended to care about privacy then tried to offload the entire company to his buddies at Walmart and Oracle for the safety of America’s toddlers or what have you.
Enter the Biden administration, which is purportedly working on a deal with TikTok and ByteDance that would let the company keep operating in the United States, but would implement some guard rails in terms of the company’s data security and governance. But it sounds like the deal isn’t going that well:
The two sides are still wrangling over the potential agreement. The Justice Department is leading the negotiations with TikTok, and its No. 2 official, Lisa Monaco, has concerns that the terms are not tough enough on China, two people with knowledge of the matter said. The Treasury Department, which plays a key role in approving deals involving national security risks, is also skeptical that the potential agreement with TikTok can sufficiently resolve national security issues, two people with knowledge of the matter said. That could force changes to the terms and drag out a final resolution for months.
The White House appears to be avoiding a TikTok ban for now. But they do seem to be continuing a key “solution” for TikTok begun in the Trump administration. And that is, basically tethering much of the app to Oracle, a U.S. company with a long history of privacy violations, cozying up to China, super dodgy legal and lobbying practices, and a CEO who may or may not believe in this whole democracy thing:
First, TikTok would store its American data solely on servers in the United States, probably run by Oracle, instead of on its own servers in Singapore and Virginia, two of the people said. Second, Oracle is expected to monitor TikTok’s powerful algorithms that determine the content that the app recommends, in response to concerns that the Chinese government could use its feed as a way to influence the American public, they said.
Tethering TikTok to a dodgy company like Oracle isn’t actually much of a solution, but it allows folks to feel like they’re doing something. Still, actual policy solutions to TikTok are likely going to prove hard to come by. In large part because the TikTok policy conversation is predominately being driven by bad faith operators who don’t actually care about the real underlying issue: consumer privacy.
Trump never actually cared about kids being spied on, he just saw an opportunity for some cronyism and xenophobic saber rattling. Politico’s new Billionaire owner Mathias Döpfner doesn’t actually care about consumer privacy, he cares about hamstringing a mindshare competitor.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, an avid leader in the “ban TikTok” movement, has never shown the slightest interest in consumer privacy at his day job at the FCC, but has found the subject a great way to gain political brownie points among the China-phobic. Then there’s Facebook, whicho has already been caught several times spreading moral panic stories about TikTok in the press.
There’s no shortage of Silicon Valley executives who can’t engineer a better alternative and simply don’t want to compete with a popular Chinese app. Then there’s no shortage of DC politicians who are simply racist, but like to hide that racism under the veneer of national security.
That’s all to say that while there are very valid concerns about TikTok and the data it collects, most of the folks most vocally heading to the fainting couch don’t actually care about the supposed underlying issue: consumer privacy. Countless folks just hear the word “China” and their brain simple goes into a bizarre autopilot mode. That’s not a great place to start from when crafting policy.
Again, we created a massive adtech and data broker ecosystem in which consumer privacy has long taken a backseat to making money. So even if you ban TikTok tomorrow, China (or any other government or company) can still access much of the same U.S. consumer location, browsing, facial recognition, and behavior data from an absolute ocean of dodgy middlemen who see very little in the way of meaningful accountability. Many of the same folks complaining about TikTok proudly built that environment.
In that sense, the fixation on TikTok is a giant distraction from our real failure: consumer privacy and consumer protection. But guys like Mark Zuckerberg or Mathias Döpfner don’t want to actually have that conversation, as the end result might be new US privacy rules and laws that would trim a few zeroes off of their total net worth.
Guys like Brendan Carr don’t really want to have that conversation either, as it would advertise that the policies they support (like say stripping away broadband privacy rules at the FCC, or fighting every effort at a national privacy law if it upsets AT&T) routinely created the environment that allowed companies to abuse consumer trust and privacy with relative impunity for decades.
With bad faith actors leading the charge I’m not sure any of this ends well.
It’s pretty clear most of the loudest TikTok critics are perfectly ok with abusing platforms to spread propaganda, or over-collecting, abusing, and failing to secure consumer data, but only if we’re the ones doing it. But you can’t separate the two things; creating a zero accountability privacy-hoovering data broker hellscape created the problems with TikTok.
Just banning a single app doesn’t fix the actual problem. But we don’t want to fix the actual problem (our lax consumer protection and privacy standards) because some wealthy men in the U.S. might lose money. So instead we’re getting a series of face-fanning performances that will, ultimately, probably accomplish nothing.
Filed Under: china, consumer protection, privacy, social media, surveillance, video, white house
Companies: oracle, tiktok