Many experts have called Zuckerberg’s argument empty and misleading. Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, for example, describes this as “spinning up the China bogeyman,” a strategy that “allows the companies to portray their size and the vast amounts of data they store about individuals as a national asset and an antidote to the big firms and big data of China.”
It wasn’t the first time this month that lawmakers have questioned the security and content moderation practices of TikTok. Two weeks ago, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) called for the Committee on Foreign Investment to investigate ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of , a lip-syncing app popular in the US that was later merged with TikTok. On Twitter, Rubio said he was concerned TikTok is “censoring content in line with #China’s communist government directives.”.
ABOUTDipayan Ghosh is the author of Terms of Disservice: How Silicon Valley is Destructive by Design. He leads the Digital Platforms & Democracy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School, and prior worked as a policy advisor at Facebook and the Obama White House.Last week settled the debate once and for all, and fully revealed the hollowness of the bogeyman theory. On Monday, Indian regulators enacted a hard ban on TikTok and 58 other Chinese applications, citing concerns over national security triggered by radical privacy violations that these apps committed against Indian users. While many in the Indian digital rights camp are decrying the decision, the government ban shouldn’t be seen only as a political move in response to rising military tensions, but rather as a strong statement that India will not stand for violations of user privacy enabled by apps like TikTok.
Bangorlol, meanwhile, also alleged the app is designed to disproportionately engage new users to keep them hooked to the platform, and, perhaps most insidiously, that TikTok has designed the app such that if someone attempts to debug or reverse-engineer it, the app will recognize that and effectively work to continue to conceal its exploitative qualities. “They don’t want you to know how much information they're collecting on you,” bangorlol wrote. (TikTok is yet to respond to this report directly, but the company has noted that it sends no user data to China and that it has “no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S.”)
Damning as these accusations are, we’ve seen similarly shady practices from American platforms in recent years. The emotional contagion fiasco in which users’ News Feeds were manipulated to experiment with their mental states; the Cambridge Analytica revelation; a series of anticompetitive practices; an onslaught of one privacy violation after the next—these incidents were attributable to Facebook alone. Informed users have grown accustomed to hearing much about the privacy and security woes concerning use of internet-connected modern technology. As Eric Schmidt has also suggested, privacy itself is an antiquated notion. Many users have come to accept and expect that by using online platforms they must relinquish data privacy.