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The big problem is not TikTok

By Mark Alexander
web posted March 25, 2024

If you tolerate the daily Beltway news cycles and are still sober, you have seen something about the ChiCom social media platform TikTok every day for, well, years. It is a wildly popular app, mostly for narcissists and other sordid exhibitionists, with a few reputable influencers mixed in.

Like many questionable outfits, TikTok Ltd is incorporated in the Cayman Islands and based largely in Singapore and Los Angeles. It is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. I have seen some of the platform videos because they are now ubiquitous across other social media platforms.

Like all the other Big Tech platforms, TikTok is a massive private data mining operation, increasingly under restricted use in many nations because of its unbridled privacy violations. A partial listing of data collection in its "privacy policy" includes usage patterns, IP addresses, users' mobile carriers, unique device identifiers, keystroke patterns, and location data, among many other privacy intrusions. That led another platform CEO, Reddit's Steve Huffman, to describe the TikTok app as "fundamentally parasitic" because "it's always listening [and] the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying."

Notably, TikTok and its ChiCom counterpart, Douyin, also censor content promoting "demonization of countries" and content related to Tibet and Taiwan. The platform is used by sex traffickers to promote pornographic content.

The data being collected on its American users is not just for adjusting ads based on user interests; it's being co-opted for far more nefarious purposes by the Red Chinese government. China's 2017 National Intelligence Law requires that all organizations must "support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts," and that includes TikTok.

Recently, as noted by Thomas Gallatin, the House passed a bipartisan bill, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, by a 352-65 vote. The bill's primary target is TikTok. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a cosponsor of the bill, explained, "This is designed to be a framework that will allow us to ensure that we don't have the Chinese Communist Party owning American data and using it nefariously against the American people."

Indeed, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the ChiComs' data mining capabilities, declaring: "When it comes to the algorithm, and the recommendation algorithm, and the ability to conduct influence operations, that is extraordinarily difficult to detect. And that's what makes it such a pernicious risk."

At the same time Congress was deliberating, the ChiComs were issuing messages to TikTok users to inundate their respective representatives with calls and emails, which, as Emmy Griffin concluded, backfired.

However, there are objections to the proposed restrictions on TikTok, and it's no irony that Joe Biden has become a big fan. "Hey by the way, we just joined TikTok," Team Biden announced on February 11, Super Bowl Sunday.

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) responded, "Joe Biden is so desperate to pander to young voters, he's willing to give away his campaign's data to Communist China."

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) was more pointed: "Every single Biden national security official — from the director of national intelligence to the CIA director to the DIA director to the head of Cyber Command — has warned that TikTok is a national security threat. The head of the FBI, Chris Wray, just testified before my committee and said that the parent company that owns TikTok is beholden to the Chinese government and, therefore, is a very significant threat. So here you have Biden's hand-picked advisers telling him that this is effectively a CCP tool or weapon, and yet he's ignoring that. Why? To court the votes of anti-Semitic 18-year-olds? To get progressive in a campaign season? It's not a serious move. It's not serious leadership. It's not the move of a serious country. ... I urge the president's Gen-Z TikTok-addled campaign staffers to reverse course in the interest of national security."

As Douglas Andrews noted: "This, of course, is an act of utter desperation by Biden, the 'sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory' whose underlings have told him that he's toast in November without the low-information youth vote. The Left only cares about retaining power, which is why Biden is ignoring his administration's own repeated warnings about TikTok."

Well, yeah, but to be fair, Biden has been a ChiCom pawn for decades, now coddling our nation's most dangerous national security adversary as president of, you know, the thing. He has been collecting his "Big Guy" cuts from Hunter Biden's pay-to-play schemes for years.

Of course, there is that other guy objecting to the TikTok restrictions, Donald Trump, who, as president, called for banning the app.

Trump now says that limitations on TikTok will just push users over to that other massive private data mining operation, Facebook, and he is right. "I don't want Facebook ... doing better," Trump says. "They are a true Enemy of the People!" And again, he is right.

Facebook is not only the biggest data mining operation in the world but also the planet's leading systemic speech suppression platform, making it the most perilous enemy of American Liberty.

For Congress to put a tiny temporary bandage on TikTok data collection while ignoring the massive arterial data bleed and speech suppression on the Facebook platform is disgraceful.

For years, all the congressional testimony by Big Tech oligarchs has resulted in little more than political stage propping. Congress has done nothing to protect the marketing of private user data or freedom of speech on these platforms.

Six years ago, I provided a strategy that Congress could implement under the authority of existing interstate commerce and other laws to protect consumer privacy and slow down the privacy pirates.

If they actually want to implement a strategy...

Congress has the authority to protect consumer privacy through addendums to existing legislation regulating commerce, and in the case of Facebook and other aggregators of private data (which should be classified as private property), that legislation should include explicit requirements regarding the collection and dissemination of consumer data and profiles. When it comes to invasive privacy violations — the collecting and marketing of individual profiles — the ubiquitous blanket "user agreements" posted by the platforms are completely insufficient.

The vast majority of their platform users have no idea of the extent to which they are actually the platform products.

Congress should enact legislation requiring that social media companies and other aggregators of individual data, including Google et al., be required to obtain specific and explicit user permissions for each and every transfer of such data prior to the collection of any individually identifiable profiling information. The requirement would be for a platform pop-up in each case, whereby the user is required to authorize the collection of their personal data and disclosure of how that data will be used, including the transfer or sale of such data.

Facebook and other data aggregators are already enormously profitable from ad revenues. The internal use of individual profile data to determine what ads and content a user may be more interested in may be a negotiable issue on the legitimacy of using that data. But exporting private data on individuals, either individually or in aggregate, should require explicit permissions — and violations should be enormously costly to social media companies.

The aggregators will argue about what constitutes "private" — that the data they collect is not private. But by any reasonable definition, the individual data in question most certainly is private.

The proposal of such requirements would bring the big social media platforms to the table for negotiations, at which point Congress could insist on lifting speech suppression and shadow-banning tactics used by the platforms.

This will enrage the Demos' Leftmedia protectorate and Big Tech propagandists, but if Congress is serious about restricting data mining, bring it on! ESR

Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.


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