How the war on TikTok could set back Shein, Apple and other companies

  • TikTok has become a main character in the US-China tech war.
  • US politicians from both parties are looking for ways to ban the app or reduce its influence.
  • But the attacks on TikTok distract from the larger task of protecting data for all Americans.

When the United States last month spotted a Chinese surveillance balloon hovering about 66,000 feet above Billings, Montana, politicians and pundits took the opportunity to call out another Chinese boogeyman: TikTok .

“A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones. Let’s stop them all,” said Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. tweeted.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul also likened TikTok to a spy balloon that sends sensitive data to the “mothership in Beijing” when he introduced a bill in February requiring the House Blanche to ban TikTok or any app that might be subject to China’s influence.

A few years after arriving in the United States, TikTok has become a main character in the US-China tech war. The short video app is a common talking point for U.S. politicians of both parties looking to take a stand on China.

But attacks focused on TikTok are also prompting policy proposals that could have serious consequences for companies caught up in the current competition between the United States and China, policy experts told Insider. Bills to ban TikTok — like McCaul’s Data Act and a more recent Senses Bill. Mark Warner and John Thune – tend to be broadly drafted in a way that could end up shutting down a wide range of foreign tech companies, such as fast-growing e-commerce apps Shein and Temu.

The proposed bills in Congress could even affect some U.S. companies performing business functions in China, said ACLU senior policy adviser Jenna Leventoff, who co-authored a letter opposing McCaul’s bill.

“That could apply to other big companies, like maybe Apple,” Leventoff told Insider. “Apple has a lot of its technology made in China. The president or future administration could block Americans from doing business or using apps from any number of entities in China.”

Apple is working closely with Taiwanese maker Foxconn in China to manufacture iPhones and other products in the city of Zhengzhou, although the company has recently sought to move some production out of the country, the Wall Street reported. Log.

China could also retaliate against American companies in technology or other sectors if the United States goes after one of its rising stars.

“The United States usually politicizes technology and trade issues and uses them as a tool and a weapon in the name of national security,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on March 6. “Such a practice violates the principles of market economy and fair competition. China will follow relevant developments closely.”

Another avenue for lawmakers seeking to protect Americans from foreign-owned apps would be to enact stricter data privacy laws for all companies operating in the United States, experts told Insider. But U.S. tech companies that rely on data collection for ad sales or other business practices have fought to limit those regulations.

“The United States is far behind most other industrialized countries in terms of creating sweeping data privacy regulations,” said Aram Sinnreich, professor of communications at American University and co-author of the book at appear “The Secret Life of Data”.

“This is largely due to the countless millions of dollars spent by big tech companies like Amazon and Meta and Google lobbying the US government to allow these companies to continue their data mining business models,” a- he declared.

Why TikTok has become the center of anti-China rhetoric

TikTok is a particularly effective scapegoat in Washington’s anti-China rhetoric because it evokes an emotional response for many Americans. The app is embedded in many aspects of American culture, especially for young people, raising concerns that China could use it to influence the next generation of Americans.

“TikTok is a type of news and views site that shapes opinions and helps others shape opinions,” said Leland Miller, CEO of economic research firm China Beige Book. “Nothing is bigger than TikTok and more important to a young cohort than TikTok.”

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in Washington, DC on Tuesday, February 14, 2023.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is due to testify before Congress in March.

Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty Images.

Apart from its cultural influence, officials are concerned that ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company of TikTok, may be forced to give the Chinese Communist Party access to US user data through its National Intelligence Act.

TikTok has hurt its own cause when it comes to its reputation for data privacy. For example, the company misrepresented how US user data was handled, and then its parent company monitored the locations of journalists who exposed its practices.

But it also comes under closer scrutiny than other apps with China-based owners.

Temu and Shein, for example, rose to the top of Apple’s App Store this year, occupying the top 10 spots in Apple’s rankings in recent weeks. Both platforms, like TikTok, collect data, such as a user’s name, phone number, IP address and geolocation, from US customers as part of their day-to-day operations.

Still, DC politicians haven’t sounded the alarm about protecting user data for either app, or how a ban on TikTok might affect them.

Stricter privacy laws are a way out, but could be pushed back by Big Tech

Lawmakers could protect US users and avoid outright bans on foreign-owned apps by enacting tougher data privacy laws at home, experts and policy advocates told Insider.

“It’s a national embarrassment that we don’t have basic data privacy law in the United States,” said Evan Greer, director of tech activism organization Fight For The Future, which launched a petition opposing the banning of TikTok. “Every day lawmakers lose their hand over TikTok is another day we don’t have a national privacy law in the United States.”

Some officials, including the senses. Ron Wyden and Jon Ossoff, acknowledged that the TikTok-focused legislation diverts attention from the larger issue of protecting Americans’ data across all apps.

Yet efforts by members of Congress to pass federal data privacy legislation, such as the US Privacy and Data Protection Act, have faced an uphill battle.

Cutting access to some user data tracking tools has hurt US tech platform companies in the past. Apple’s user privacy changes in 2021 have slowed ad revenue from Facebook and Snapchat maker Snap, for example.

But preventing companies from collecting private information from users could also be a more effective way to protect Americans while allowing Chinese companies to participate in the global economy.

“We need to continue to pursue more secure technical standards and encryption,” said Milton Mueller, director of the master of science in cybersecurity policy program at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of a report from the Cybersecurity Governance Project. Internet on TikTok and national security. “This kind of security is something that I believe puts Internet users in control without compromising the basic functioning of the Internet and the globalization of the Internet.”

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