In a sense, Today’s US Congressional hearing on TikTok was a huge success, revealing, in five hours, how desperately the US needs national data privacy protections – and how lawmakers somehow think that launching attacks on China is an appropriate alternative.
For some, Thursday’s job was to pick the only witness in the hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, as the replacement for the Chinese government — in some cases, communism itself — and then belt him out as a side of beef. More than a few of the questions lawmakers posed to Chew were vague, speculative and unrelated to the allegations against his company. But the congressmen asking those questions feigned little interest in Chew’s answers anyway.
Attempts by Chew, a 40-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker, to elaborate on TikTok’s business practices have been frequently cut short, and his requests for remarks on matters believed to be of considerable interest to members of Congress were blocked and sometimes ignored. These opportunities to register the CEO, under oath, have been repeatedly blown in the name of opportunity and for mostly theatrical reasons. Chew, on the other hand, was the picture of patience, even when talking about him. Even when some lawmakers started asking and, without pause, answering their own questions.
The hearing could have been a flop, had lawmakers planned on digging up new dirt on TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, or even figuring out what the company could do next to allay their concerns. But that was not the goal. The House Energy and Commerce Committee was convened, he said, to investigate “how Congress can protect US data privacy and protect children from harm online.” And on that, the hearing revealed a lot.
On the one hand, it’s clear that attempts to isolate TikTok from its competitors – to treat it differently from dozens of other companies with atrocious records of child endangerment and abuse of private data – is a unnecessary exercise. Asked about TikTok’s propensity to monitor its own users, Chicago Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky cautioned Chew against using legal and industry-typical practices as a defense against such harms. “You could say ‘no more than other companies,'” she said, adding that she’d rather not “comply to that standard.”
ALL RIGHT. But why not?
The truth is that if TikTok were to disappear tomorrow, its users would simply flock to a number of other apps that don’t shy away from monitoring the most private moments of their lives and amassing, manipulating and selling sensitive information about them. . Excluding the more serious but largely unsubstantiated allegations made against TikTok — that it is or will be acting in coordination with Chinese intelligence — there were no privacy concerns raised by lawmakers on Thursday that don’t. could not be resolved by existing legislation supporting a national privacy law.
Ensuring that companies and the data brokers they enrich face swift retaliation for flagrantly abusing user trust would have the benefit of addressing not only the accusations against TikTok, but also the practices misleading common throughout the social media industry.
The irony of US lawmakers seeking a solution to a problem that has already been solved by a bill — but not actually solved due to its own inaction — has not entirely escaped members. Although primarily focused on a single company, the hearing, Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor said, should really serve as a broader call to action. “Surveillance, tracking, personal data harvesting and addictive algorithmic operations that spread harmful content and have a corrosive effect on the mental and physical well-being of our children,” she said. Americans deserve to be protected, regardless of the source.