TikTok is the target of the day in the House, where CEO Shou Chew will testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee as bipartisan energy grows around restricting the app in some way out of concern about its Chinese ownership. TikTok bans are spreading, with more than two dozen states and the federal government banning the app on government devices and WiFi networks. Some colleges have done the same. But many in Congress want more, and the Biden administration reportedly wants TikTok sold to another owner.
This is a complicated issue, but we’re talking about a House hearing. It will be “fireworks and posturing on both sides, unless [Chew] makes a concession,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ James Lewis told Politico. And TikTok has few defenders in Congress. This week, Rep. Jamaal Bowman emerged as a defender, but he’s not on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Bowman took a view similar to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF): The data privacy concerns TikTok represents are best solved not by banning TikTok but by strengthening data privacy laws to apply to all social media platforms and websites. He called for regulations to “end big tech monopolies” and “give people a choice” about how their data would be shared.
The EFF argued that whatever information the Chinese government can get about U.S. TikTok users through ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, it can likely get from other sources. The sale of location data is already a common thing, with apps tracking our movements and developers selling that information to data brokers, who then sell it to whoever will pay. “An anti-gay group bought it to identify gay priests,” EFF noted. “An election denier bought it to try to prove voting fraud. One broker sold data on who had visited reproductive health facilities.” The answer here, the electronic privacy organization said, is “to limit how all businesses here collect personal data.”
Most of Congress isn’t listening, though. After all, it’s a much bigger lift to put limits on personal data collection that apply to Facebook or Twitter than to use a social media platform to rail against the Chinese government.
Earlier in March, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Republican Sen. John Thune introduced the RESTRICT Act, which would apply not just to TikTok but to apps, software, and hardware from countries deemed hostile, giving the government new powers to review potential threats. The House Foreign Affairs Committee previously moved forward Republican Rep. Michael McCaul’s DATA Act without Democratic support. The two bills have similarities, but the DATA Act effectively requires a ban, while the RESTRICT Act calls for heightened review.
But the headlines out of the House hearing on TikTok are not likely to be the nuances of data privacy and free speech and expression. Look today for a lot of anti-China rhetoric and suspicion of a platform few members of Congress understand.
Today, Kerry is joined by Drew Linzer, the director and co-founder of the well-regarded polling company, CIVIQs. Drew and Kerry talk about a recent CIVIQs poll that asked Americans from all walks of life about trans issues, among other things. Drew talks about the methodology and how the results show that conservatives tend to have more liberal views when questions are framed in terms of fundamental rights.