This week, Galloway spent his time pushing the hot DC claim du jour: that TikTok is a profound menace to the planet and should be banned. He made the point at the Vox Code conference, then hopped over to Bill Maher’s HBO show to make a similar pronouncement:
Actual evidence of TikTok being uniquely dangerous (especially any indication China has used or could use TikTok to bedazzle U.S. children) has been sorely lacking, but that doesn’t stop folks from heading to the fainting couches. This face fanning has been especially popular among a certain set of xenophobic DC politicians, and companies that don’t want to have to directly compete with China.
The problem: the U.S. is a corrupt, xenophobic, superficial dumpster fire, so most of the “solutions” to this potential problem have been stupid and performative.
Here’s the thing: you could ban TikTok immediately, and China could hoover up location, browsing, and behavior data from an ocean of completely unaccountable and hugely shady data brokers and middlemen. And they can do that because U.S. privacy and security standards are hot garbage. And in some instances, they’re hot garbage because of the same people now complaining about TikTok.
Both Carr and Cruz have extensive histories of undermining regulatory oversight and privacy rules at absolutely every opportunity, yet both are lauded by Galloway in a blog post for being heroic leaders in the “ban TikTok” crusades. Galloway’s a top pundit, yet somehow can’t see that Carr and Cruz are engaged in a zero-calorie xenophobic theatrics, and couldn’t care less about actual consumer privacy.
For literally thirty straight years, at absolutely every single turn, we prioritized making money over transparency or consumer privacy. As a result, consumer privacy protections are garbage, regulators are toothless, governments exploit the attention economy to avoid having to get warrants, and any idiot with a nickel can easily build gigantic, hugely detailed profiles about your everyday life without your consent.
“Banning TikTok” does nothing meaningful if you’re genuinely interested in meaningful surveillance and privacy reform. There will always be another TikTok. There’s an ocean of companies engaging in the same or worse behavior as TikTok because we’ve sanctioned this kind of guardrail-optional hyper-collection and monetization of consumer behavioral data at every step of the way.
Many of the folks beating the “ban TikTok” drum may be well intentioned but just don’t really understand how broken the consumer privacy landscape is. They may not understand that this is a problem that’s exponentially more complicated than just what we do with a single app. Freaking out exclusively about a single app tells me you either don’t really understand the data-hoovering monster we’ve built, or don’t really care if anybody other than China exploits it (waves tiny American flag patriotically).
Many of the other folks calling for a TikTok ban aren’t operating in good faith. Facebook/Meta, for example, spends a lot of time spreading scary stories about TikTok in the press and DC because they want to crush a competitive threat they’ve been incapable of out-innovating. Similar, Politico’s owner is on the Netflix board and simply wants to curtail what he sees as a threat to market and advertising mindshare.
Then there’s just a ton of Silicon Valley folks who believe they inherently own and deserve the advertising market share TikTok occupies. And then of course there’s just a whole bunch of rank bigots who are mad because darker skinned human beings built a popular app, and try to hide this bigotry behind patriotic, pseudo national security concerns.