1672713751 US vs TikTok Congress tightens political siege on Chinese social

US vs TikTok: Congress tightens political siege on Chinese social network

The US Congress secretary last Wednesday ordered the TikTok dance to be stopped with an internal message that was difficult to interpret: “The staff of the House of Representatives [de Representantes] You are NOT allowed to download this app on work phones. If it turns out that you have already downloaded it, they will contact you to remove it. Catherine Szpindor cited “security risks” to take the admittedly unusual measure against a foreign company and awaited the entry into force of the ban on the use of China’s social video network on federal government devices, except where it is used by security forces in their investigations . The veto is included in the monumental $1.7 trillion spending package approved in extremis last week before the Capitol closed for Christmas. President Joe Biden signed the law into law Thursday while vacationing in the Virgin Islands.

There are already at least 19 states, most led by Republicans, that have used the same security concerns to partially block TikTok on their officials’ phones and tablets (Indiana went further and sued the company for providing adult content to children). And on December 13, Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) introduced a bipartisan bill called the Antisocial CCP Act. The name, as much as it sounds like a joke (it would be were it not for the US lawmakers’ obsession with acronyms). , stands for the Chinese Communist Party’s Law on Preventing the National Threat of Repressive Internet Surveillance, Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning.

Days earlier, in a Washington Post op-ed piece co-signed with Congressman Mike Gallagher (Wisconsin), Rubio wrote: “The application can track cell phone location and collect Internet browsing data even when users visit unrelated websites.” Both also recalled that under a 2017 law, Chinese citizens and companies are required to share information with the country’s authorities for reasons of national security. “It’s disturbing that TikTok, and by extension the Communist Party, has the ability to take notes every time our teens use their phones. With this app, Beijing can collect sensitive information from government employees, as well as blackmail or spy on millions of our compatriots.”

The love-hate relationship between its owners, parent company ByteDance, and the United States — the country in the world that uses the platform the most, with 136.5 million accounts — is not new, but has seen a peak of animosity these weeks related to the growing geopolitical dispute between Washington and Beijing. Ex-President Donald Trump already threatened in the summer of 2020 to ban the social network, which surpassed Google in visits in 2021 and has simply managed to change the mass culture of this country in just six years. Like other acts in the circus of base passions of his final months in the White House, the thing was semi-abandoned. Upon taking office, Biden shelved his predecessor’s executive order that gave a local firm 45 days to take over TikTok in the United States (there were many candidates taking such juicy haul at the time).

Juxtaposition of images with the TikTok logo and Donald Trump. Juxtaposition of images with the TikTok logo and Donald Trump. LIONEL BONAVENTURE JIM WATSON (AFP)

This was not a sign of a drastic change of course: the new government has shown continuity with the previous one in terms of its policy of technological rivalry with the enemy power.

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This has led to the platform being left in limbo in practice at the expense of an investigation by the Commission on Foreign Investment (CFIUS is the English acronym) that has been ongoing for more than two years. As part of the Treasury Department, it is responsible for overseeing trade deals with non-US companies. This week, The Wall Street Journal reported increased pressure within that commission from members of the Pentagon and the Justice Department to force a sale of the company’s operations in the United States as the only solution to the security problems. For his part, Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, never misses an opportunity to warn of the dangers of the social network’s recommendation algorithm and its “possibility of influence”.

After learning of Congress’ legislative intentions, Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, called the ban a “disappointment” and “a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.” The company has repeatedly tried to downplay concerns about its handling of private data, claiming that US users’ data is not stored in China, that such information is not shared with the Chinese government, and that its headquarters are in fact located in the Cayman Islands is located. “The agreement that CFIUS is reviewing will address, to a significant extent, all of the security concerns that have been raised at both the federal and state levels,” the statement continued.

Meanwhile, the company, which is particularly popular with younger people (it’s second only to YouTube in teen preferences, according to the Pew Research Center), is investing money to pretend to play by the rules, an internal investigation revealed that several weeks ago ByteDance employees had accessed the data of US journalists. The technology company has had an office in Washington for years. And in the city’s crowded lobbyist jungle, ByteDance has expanded its footprint with the pace of its growth in the United States: from investing $370,000 to influence lawmakers’ decisions in 2019, it turned 4 this year, according to OpenSecrets, a $.28 million provided Guardian Organization of the Relationship of Money and Power.

Experienced cybersecurity expert Brian Grayek, CEO of the specialist company REDW and collaborator in several investigations with the secret services and the FBI, considers the measure recently passed in Congress to be insufficient. “That won’t stop them from continuing to steal information from the rest of the American population. Some of them could be spouses or relatives of government officials, and even have ties to the army, military industry, critical infrastructure, or US intelligence,” he explained in an email. So welcome Senator Rubio’s initiative. “As they say, ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures.’ It is intentionally built software with wrong intentions that has set the new standard for breaking the rules and corrupting teenagers, meddling in people’s lives and spying on citizens. All of this is not conjecture, but proven fact,” he muses, before citing “two arguments.” “The first: ask 100 TikTok users if they know how the company they gave it to handles their data, how it spy on their movements, their patterns, their browsing history, their locations, among other things; or whether they understand how he manipulates their actions and thoughts at will depending on their age and country of residence. I’m guessing maybe two will tell you they know part of that answer. The second reason is that a popular app makes it untrustworthy. Hardly anyone wanted to wear seat belts when they were introduced in cars in 1949. Few did after they became mandatory in 1991. Some still don’t wear them and risk fines.”

According to this, many of its users know that they have been traveling in a car at full speed and still prefer not to think about their physical integrity. One of them, Victoria Jameson, “the creator of TikTok” with nearly 970,000 followers and author of the TikTalk Radio guide podcast “Growing on the Platform”, is confident that the company and the US government “will be able to create a to reach an agreement”. . In a recent episode, he advised his listeners to “not give in to the negative energy of the moment” and keep uploading videos. Also that they are careful to save the content before it could disappear “overnight”, as happened in 2016 with Vine, a service for short looping clips (there the reasons were purely business). For Jameson, “All of this is an unbeatable reminder that creators don’t own their audiences.”

That TikTok is an unbeatable way to reach potential (and not always easy to mobilize) Gen Z voters does not consciously help politicians, sensitive as they may be on security issues, in getting their messages across on issues like US involvement on the war in Ukraine or Biden’s initiatives to reduce inflation. Perhaps the case that best demonstrated this uncharted power in recent terms was that of Pennsylvania Democratic nominee John Fetterman. His campaign, which saw him suffer a stroke, failed in many ways but was masterful at using social media. He has almost 242 million followers on TikTok and was elected to the Senate in one of the tightest campaigns ever. His last post is from November 13th.

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