TikTok has been all the rage in Washington lately. Not for the reasons which lead some 150 million Americans to use it, but because of the rush by politicians to try to ban the app, which is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company.
Two major bills that would impose sweeping restrictions on Chinese-owned software are working their way through the House (HR 1153) and Senate (S 686), while TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was recently brought before the House Commerce Committee for hostile questioning. The executive branch is also seeking to force ByteDance to sell the app to an American owner, against Chinese opposition.
Those raising the alarm about Chinese ownership of TikTok cite invasive surveillance practices, privacy violations created by excessive collection and exploitation of user data, addictive design features, and harmful content. But all of these disturbing characteristics are also ubiquitous features of American-owned big tech apps ranging from Google to Facebook to Instagram, and were in many ways pioneered by American Silicon Valley companies.
In the case of TikTok, the claim is that Chinese ownership makes these problems particularly harmful because Chinese intelligence services can access user data and technologies owned by Chinese companies such as ByteDance. Some also go further by claiming that TikTok could be used to compromise the security of devices on which it is installed.
Read the full piece in Responsible Statecraft.