The political move du jour in the U.S. these days: banning TikTok on government devices.
In the past three months alone, more than half of American governors have issued orders outlawing the social media app on government-issued devices. In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Congress voted unanimously in December to prohibit the use of TikTok on federal gadgets. Now, even some municipalities and local boards are getting into the action.
In each case, political leaders cite the same concerns with TikTok. They argue the app’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, will be forever beholden to China’s authoritarian, anti-American government, an untenable relationship that threatens U.S. national security and cultural values.
For elected officials, it all makes for good headlines. Politicians get to look like they’re standing up to America’s top geopolitical threat, without actually doing anything that negatively impacts the day-to-day lives of constituents.
But here’s what you don’t see many of them doing: calling for a national ban on all TikTok usage.
As political leaders stumble over themselves to institute the government device quarter-measure, a much larger question about the app’s broader viability in the U.S. hangs in the balance. And while burblings about a national ban are growing ever-so-slightly louder, it’s telling that the same officials howling about TikTok’s nefarious influence are conspicuously quiet when it comes to supporting a policy that might tick off millions of voters.
The debate over TikTok’s place in the American digital landscape largely boils down to questions of trust in ByteDance. The company claims that the Chinese government cannot access American users’ data or tinker with the app’s recommendation algorithms. To assuage fears about undue Chinese influence, ByteDance has proposed housing all American user data onto servers owned and operated in the U.S. by Oracle, as well as giving Oracle and outside inspectors access to TikTok source code.
ByteDance skeptics, however, argue that any faith in the company and the interventionist Chinese government is misguided. Multiple media reports, including blockbuster BuzzFeed and Forbes stories authored by Emily Baker-White, have validated concerns about ByteDance failing to follow through on promises of protecting user data and staving off undue influence.
As it stands, the government device prohibitions are little more than political theater. Government employees rarely use TikTok in the course of official business, and efforts to restrict access to TikTok through government-provided wireless internet—including on public school campuses populated by the youth-oriented app’s prime demographic—are easily circumvented by switching to cellular internet service.
The more consequential debate worth having is whether TikTok should have any place in the American digital landscape.
So far, that conversation has been mostly confined to backroom dealings between ByteDance and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. The sides have spent two-plus years haggling over an agreement that would allow ByteDance to continue operating in the U.S. under stricter regulations designed to protect American interests. If they do not reach an agreement, ByteDance could be forced to divest or shut down its U.S. operations.
As the New York Times reported Thursday, building off multiple other media reports in recent weeks, TikTok officials are growing increasingly impatient with a lack of communication from CFIUS about the status of negotiations. The impasse follows a Politico report in December that CFIUS faces conflicting demands from the national security community, which supports divestiture, and the Treasury Department, which is wary about the legality of forcing a sale.
Meanwhile, federal legislators and state governors huffing and puffing about TikTok’s threat are mostly avoiding the difficult question of the app’s future.
To date, only a few political leaders have taken a clear stance against ByteDance that calls for divestiture or an outright prohibition. Four members of Congress—Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.)—have introduced legislation seeking to effectively ban TikTok on American soil. U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also has signaled his support for similar legislation.
Politicians staying mum on a national ban are likely engaging in smart politics. Polling on a national TikTok ban is limited, and available data suggests support is mixed. Drastic action against TikTok certainly carries political risk with younger voters given Pew Research Center data illustrating their devotion to TikTok (about two-thirds of teens use the app) and slightly more favorable views of China than older Americans.
“TikTok is hugely popular with young people, and the last time a wider ban was floated by Donald Trump in 2020, it didn’t go over well with young people, though evidence and skepticism have grown since then,” Vox reporter Christian Paz wrote in December.
For all parties involved, the most politically expedient resolution involves ByteDance and CFIUS reaching a mutually beneficial agreement that doesn’t materially disrupt the TikTok experience for American users. For that to happen, though, ByteDance and the Biden administration will eventually need to meet somewhere in the middle.
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A nasty semi crash. Intel shares sank 8% in midday trading Friday after the chipmaker saw a sharp drop in sales and reported a loss in the fourth quarter. Company officials said quarterly revenue fell to about $14 billion, down 32% year over year, as a sharp slowdown in sales contributed to an inventory glut. Intel executives also disappointed Wall Street with a first-quarter revenue forecast that came in well below analyst expectations.
A.I. to the rescue. Artificial intelligence tools are helping Meta overcome challenges with its social media and advertising operations, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing internal documents and interviews. The new technologies have allowed Meta to improve engagement with its Facebook and Instagram short-form video offering, Reels, and deliver better-targeted advertising with less data. The boosts follow increased competition from TikTok and data privacy changes by Apple that undercut the financial success of its social media platforms.
All-electric in the Big Apple. Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing companies will be required to reach net-zero carbon emissions in New York City under a policy announced Thursday by Mayor Eric Adams, The Verge reported. The mandate would force a rapid electrification of the 100,000-plus vehicles used by Uber and Lyft drivers operating in the city. The two companies were supportive of Adams’s declaration, stating that they look forward to working with him on meeting the goal.
17 ways to make your writers mad. BuzzFeed announced plans to use generative artificial intelligence technology developed by OpenAI to produce some content, such as quizzes, for its website, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The move offers an early look at generative A.I.’s potential influence on the digital media industry, which has experimented with publishing computer-produced content with mixed results. BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti told employees that OpenAI’s technology would help “create, personalize, and animate the content itself.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Won’t be single for long. For the tens of thousands of recently laid-off tech workers, there’s one silver lining: Their skills are in high demand. As Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram reported Thursday, many employers outside Silicon Valley are clamoring to take on staffers from the tech industry, taking advantage of the sudden supply of prospective hires. Companies in the health care, retail, and finance sectors are particularly willing to bring on tech veterans as they increasingly look to digitize their operations.
From the article:
Instead of struggling to find new work, many are discovering that their skills are still a hot commodity.
Many employers outside tech, some of which had trouble attracting tech talent during Silicon Valley’s decade-long boom because of their stodgy reputations and lower pay, are scooping up unemployed software engineers and web designers now that the tech industry is in retreat.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
‘There was no humanity’: The cruelty of tech layoffs leaves employees emotionally devastated, by Alicia Adamczyk
‘We hacked the hackers’: FBI disrupts a notorious ransomware gang that extorted victims for millions of dollars, by Eric Tucker and Frank Bajak
Tesla has rebounded over 50% from its lows in just one month. Here’s why the stock is flying high, by Christiaan Hetzner
Twitter cofounder says Elon Musk has undone all of his improvements on the platform, by Eleanor Pringle
JPMorgan Chase tops first-of-its-kind ranking of A.I. progress in banking, by Jeremy Kahn
Colorado wants to use A.I. to fight wildfires before they blaze out of control, by Jesse Bedayn and the Associated Press
Ticketmaster and Live Nation were not supposed to create a monopoly. Here’s why music fans, lawmakers, and Taylor Swift are fed up with the ticketing platforms, by Gabriel Smith
BEFORE YOU GO
No longer an average Guy. Elon Musk’s attempts to overhaul Twitter operations were bound to produce some odd unintended consequences. One particularly peculiar effect: a modestly known menswear writer populating Twitter feeds. As Vice reported Thursday, many users are seeing posts from @dieworkwear, a.k.a. Derek Guy, in their “For You” page, despite no obvious reason why Twitter’s algorithm would recommend him. Guy, who had about 50,000 followers before Musk’s takeover of Twitter in late October, posts regular musings about clothes, his cat, and progressive politics. But he’s recently become a fixture in users’ recommended Twitter feed, prompting a barrage of questions, comments, and blocks. “If I can convert someone to get into this hobby to find joy and confidence in their clothes, it sounds corny, but it does mean something to me,” Guy said.
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