TikTok is no threat to America – New York Daily News
I am a researcher and teacher in the field of cybersecurity and Internet policy. I’ve been there for 30 years. I am also a TikTok fan.
It’s a fun, often bizarre space. Exploring it reminds me of the early days of the World Wide Web, when you never knew what you would find. I also love how it embodies the values of free trade and entrepreneurship. At a time when politics buffs in Brussels and Washington are stepping up massive legislative and regulatory machinery on the premise that social media platforms are monopolies no one can compete with, TikTok came along and proved them that they were all wrong. To me, it’s a good sign that in our increasingly gated, priced and sanctioned world, a foreign information service provider can enter our market and compete successfully.
And I’m not the only one who loves the app. Ninety-four million of my fellow Americans downloaded it in 2021. It is the most downloaded application in the last two years.
On this app, you can find any kind of political opinion: videos that challenge China’s claim on Taiwan and messages in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Who would be never happen if it was a tool of the Chinese Communist Party.
So who the hell is Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr to tell us that TikTok should be banned from Apple and Google app stores?
For two years now, Carr and other populist Republicans have been sounding the alarm over the “threat to national security” posed by a short video app dominated by teens and 20-somethings. Their theory is that the Chinese communists will use TikTok to steal sensitive private information that threatens our collective security.
How can anyone take this seriously?
Carr’s letter rests on a basic misrepresentation: it equates a private company with a foreign government and turns a mundane issue of civil privacy common to any app into a geopolitical threat.
Here is the simple truth. ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, is a trading company. Like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, it makes money from advertising, which involves collecting user data and using it to power ad-matching algorithms. Carr cites studies documenting TikTok’s “suspicious” data-handling practices, but fails to tell us that YouTube and TikTok are tied in their user tracking rankings, and that Facebook and other American-owned apps do. or have done similar things. There may indeed be privacy and user data protection issues here, but presenting this to the public as solely associated with TikTok, let alone a national security issue, is wrong.
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The US military has already banned the use of TikTok by its personnel, so the idea that TikTok provides particular insight into troop locations is another distortion.
Carr’s comments convinced me that he doesn’t understand what a real national security threat related to cybersecurity looks like. As a cybersecurity educator, I offer him a few examples: ransomware attacks on critical energy infrastructure; data breaches that put millions of security clearance requests stored at the Federal Bureau of Personnel Management in the hands of foreign spies; corruption of digital certificates that control Microsoft Exchange updates; malware that enters the network management software supply chain used by tens of thousands of organizations.
I could go on. I don’t think Carr or anyone else can explain how peeking into TikTok user data, if that’s what Beijing is doing, rises to the level of these threats. This data may be of interest to advertisers and parents of some teenagers, but it’s not going to bring down the Republic.
If communists find out I’m @looneytunes, @thisissavvy, @underthedesknews and @hellopersonality’s psychedelic digital creations on TikTok, I don’t see how our country is in jeopardy. What will they do with this information, even if they get it for millions of others? Calling TikTok a government surveillance tool weaponizes the entire global data economy – any form of commerce would fit the mold.
It’s time to call the bluff. The attack on TikTok has nothing to do with national cybersecurity or even the data protection rights of TikTok users. It is a game of manipulative foreign policy and trade policy. Gin up scared of the red menace. Build more trade barriers. Chinese Republican hawks aim for a new Cold War and a protectionist America. In communist China, they’ve found a bogeyman they can use to scare audiences into their bordered, paranoid little world.
The irony is that our “anti-China” Republicans have essentially the same view of news politics as the Chinese Communists. They both believe that freedom of information is dangerous, foreign products are a threat and nationalism mobilizes the base. Maybe that’s why they call their ridings red states.
Mueller is a professor in the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at the Georgia Institute of Technology.