Lawmakers are trying to ban TikTok. But the app is hardly the only offender

Lawmakers are trying to ban TikTok. But the app is hardly the only offender - Politics - News

The Contentious Debate Over TikTok’s Future in the US: National Security Concerns vs. Data Privacy and Freedom of Expression

The Crux of the Debate: American Values and Data Security

In March 2023, during an intense hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Chew, Representative Darren Soto (D-FL) emphasized the necessity for TikTok to become an American company with American values. Amidst rising concerns regarding data security and privacy, Chew countered with a reference to the past privacy lapses of American tech giants like Facebook.

The TikTok Ban Bill and National Security Concerns

One year later, the House passed a bill that could potentially ban TikTok in the US or force its sale due to concerns over ByteDance’s Chinese origins. Proponents of this legislation argue that the Chinese government could compel ByteDance to hand over US user data, posing a significant national security threat given TikTok’s massive American user base of 170 million.

The Narrow Focus on TikTok and the Need for Broad Data Privacy Legislation

While bipartisan support has been shown in targeting TikTok, broader efforts to rein in the power of tech companies and protect user data have largely stalled. Evan Greer, Director of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, emphasizes that this singular focus on TikTok is inadequate: “Our data will be vulnerable to surveillance, whether it’s from China, Russia, or even our own government.”

The Lack of Transparency and Oversight in Data Collection

Although there have been no publicly disclosed instances of China accessing TikTok user data, it was revealed that a US government agency purchases sensitive digital data from the largely unregulated data broker market. Furthermore, US intelligence authorities have reported Russian operatives exploiting US-based social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for election meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Meta’s Rollback of Election-Related Content Moderation Policies

As the political focus on TikTok intensifies during the election year, Meta (Facebook’s parent company) has quietly relaxed its election-related content moderation policies. The platform will now allow political ads that question the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election, a move that raises concerns about the potential for misinformation and manipulation.

A Missed Opportunity: Comprehensive Data Privacy Legislation

Greer criticizes the bill as a “betrayal” of the First Amendment and insufficient in addressing the data privacy concerns. Instead, she advocates for comprehensive data privacy legislation that applies to all companies rather than focusing on a single platform like TikTok.

Addressing National Security Concerns and Protecting User Data

Many experts, like Justin Sherman (Duke University adjunct professor and CEO of Global Cyber Strategies), acknowledge the validity of national security concerns regarding TikTok while also advocating for stronger privacy legislation. Sherman was invited to be briefed on TikTok’s Project Texas initiative and believes that a solution could involve both addressing national security concerns and implementing comprehensive privacy regulations.

A Balanced Approach: Protecting User Data and Freedom of Expression

In conclusion, the debate surrounding TikTok’s future in the US calls for a balanced approach to both national security concerns and data privacy protection. It is essential that lawmakers address these issues with a comprehensive, bipartisan solution rather than focusing on one platform alone. Only then can we begin to ensure that user data remains secure and protected while also upholding the principles of freedom of expression.