The TikTok Hearing Revealed That Congress Is the Problem


In a single sense, right this moment’s US congressional hearing on TikTok was a giant success: It revealed, over 5 hours, how desperately the US wants nationwide data-privacy protections—and the way lawmakers imagine, in some way, that taking swipes at China is an appropriate various. 

For some, the job on Thursday was casting the listening to’s solely witness, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, as a stand-in for the Chinese language authorities—in some instances, for communism itself—after which belting him like a facet of beef. Various of the questions lawmakers put to Chew had been imprecise, speculative, and immaterial to the allegations in opposition to his firm. However the members of Congress asking these questions feigned little curiosity in Chew’s responses anyway. 

Makes an attempt by Chew, a 40-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker, to elaborate on TikTok’s enterprise practices had been regularly interrupted, and his requests to comment on issues supposedly of appreciable curiosity to members of Congress had been blocked and sometimes ignored. These alternatives to get the CEO on document, whereas underneath oath, had been repeatedly blown within the identify of expediency and for principally theatrical causes. Chew, in distinction, was the portrait of persistence, even when he was being talked over. Even when some lawmakers started asking and, with out pause, answering their very own questions.

The listening to would possibly’ve been a flop, had lawmakers deliberate to dig up new filth on TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, and even hash out what the corporate might do subsequent to allay their issues. However that wasn’t the intention. The Home Power and Commerce Committee was gathered, it stated, to research “how Congress can safeguard American knowledge privateness and defend youngsters from on-line harms.” And on that, the listening to revealed loads.

For one, it’s clear that the makes an attempt to isolate TikTok from its opponents—to deal with it in another way than dozens of different firms with atrocious information of endangering children and abusing non-public knowledge—is a pointless train. Asking about TikTok’s propensity for surveilling its personal customers, Chicago congresswoman Jan Schakowsky warned Chew in opposition to utilizing authorized, typical business practices as a protection in opposition to these wrongs. “You would possibly say, ‘no more than different firms,’” she stated, including she most well-liked to not “go by that customary.” 

Okay. However why not? 

The reality is that if TikTok had been to fade tomorrow, its customers would merely flock to any variety of different apps that haven’t any qualms about surveilling essentially the most non-public moments of their lives and amassing, manipulating, and promoting off delicate details about them. Excluding essentially the most severe however largely unevidenced allegations leveled at TikTok—that it’s performing or will act in coordination with Chinese language intelligence providers—there wasn’t a priority about privateness raised by lawmakers Thursday that could not be addressed by existing legislation supporting a national privacy law

Making certain firms and the information brokers they enrich face swift reprisals for blatantly abusing person belief has the advantage of not solely addressing lots of the points levied in opposition to TikTok, however deceitful practices frequent throughout the social media business. 

The irony of US lawmakers pursuing an answer to an issue that’s already been solved by draft laws—however not really mounted resulting from its personal inaction—wasn’t fully misplaced on the members. Whereas primarily centered on a single firm, the listening to, Florida congresswoman Kathy Castor stated, ought to actually function a broader name to motion. “From surveillance, monitoring, private knowledge gathering, and addictive algorithmic operations that serve up dangerous content material and have a corrosive impact on our children’ psychological and bodily well-being,” she stated, Individuals deserve safety, regardless of the supply. 

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