TikTok is under attack on many fronts these days. Earlier this week, the White House gave federal agencies 30 days to delete the Chinese social media app from government-issued devices, and China hit back at EU lawmakers for introducing similar rules. “Very disappointed that EU institutions impose restrictions on the use of TikTok on staff devices,” sighed Fu Cong, China’s ambassador to the EU, via Twitter.
Meanwhile, Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee pushed through a piece of legislation called the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act. This would allow the president to entirely ban a foreign-owned app such as TikTok without having to wait for the conclusion of a lengthy national-security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.—which has been scrutinizing TikTok for years, without any results.
Citing fears over Chinese surveillance, committee chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the bill was needed because TikTok is “too dangerous to be on our phones as members of Congress…[and] too dangerous to be on our children’s phones.”
Civil liberties activists said the bill was “vague and overbroad” and would violate the First Amendment. TikTok itself referred to the same principles, with spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter telling Politico the ByteDance-owned operation was “disappointed to see this rushed piece of legislation move forward, despite its considerable negative impact on the free speech rights of millions of Americans who use and love TikTok.”
These Western bans and bans-to-be may indeed be justified—ByteDance has consistently denied sharing TikTok user data with Beijing, and there is no solid evidence showing it has, but a 2017 Chinese law does require it to do so if compelled. That said, the whole debate is suffused with hypocrisy.
It’s not just that, as this column has noted before, TikTok’s data grabs and addiction-forming nature are standard practice in Silicon Valley. On matters of national security, U.S. Big Tech is under its own government’s thumb—companies like Meta and Alphabet have to secretly comply with U.S. intelligence requests for foreigners’ personal data. That’s why the EU can’t come up with a long-lasting arrangement for letting U.S. companies import Europeans’ data, and why Facebook and Instagram may soon have to withdraw from the European market. (The regulators involved in that case are also probing TikTok over its Chinese data transfers, so this isn’t just an anti-U.S. matter.)
China, of course, is also being massively hypocritical. Ambassador Fu’s lamentation would be a lot more convincing if it weren’t for the fact that China bans Twitter—the platform he used to complain—as well as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and a host of other U.S. services. Heck, China doesn’t even have TikTok; it has Douyin, TikTok’s more heavily censored sister app.
The sanctimony on all sides can’t hide the fact that this is a raw geopolitical argument. If U.S. lawmakers are so concerned about TikTok’s dangers, they could deal with the problem by enacting a strong federal privacy law affecting TikTok and everyone else. And if China is so upset about Western restrictions on TikTok “unreasonably suppressing other countries’ companies on the grounds of national security”—the words of Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning—it could stop doing precisely the same thing itself.
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Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman.
Salesforce drops its M&A committee. CEO Marc Benioff says Salesforce is focusing on the company’s existing business and has disbanded the mergers and acquisitions committee. Activist investors have criticized the free-spending approach that brought in deals like Slack, Tableau, and MuleSoft, and have pushed for cost-cutting. Along with the announcement of that move, Salesforce projected a rise in its operating profits in the coming year, and shares jumped 15%.
More apps get ChatGPT features. Instacart and Shopify are integrating ChatGPT with their own software and providing business customers access to OpenAI’s systems. With Instacart, users will be able to message ChatGPT to carry out recipes later this year while those on the Shopify app will get shopping recommendations tailored to their taste.
Update of ChatGPT-powered app is blocked. Apple has delayed approving an update of the email app BlueMail over concerns that a new A.I. feature has the potential to show inappropriate content, the Wall Street Journal reports. The A.I. feature uses ChatGPT to help write emails using content from previous emails and calendar events. The app review team advised BlueMail to adjust its age restriction to 17 and up or include content filtering. The cofounder of BlueMail developer Blix Inc. said it’s an unfair request.
SpaceX mission takes off. After a first launch attempt on Monday was put off, SpaceX and NASA have sent four astronauts to the International Space Station. This is the seventh astronaut flight the pair have done together, and this time, the crew will be focused on overseeing 200 science and tech projects and maintaining the station.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Could A.I. deepen echo chambers? CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt worries that A.I. tools could make the gap between political echo chambers in the U.S. even worse. He shared these concerns during a Wednesday interview with CNBC, after news earlier this week that Elon Musk is countering what he considers to be the rise of “woke” A.I. with his own “based” A.I. startup.
From the article:
Greenblatt called for more transparency from the firms that develop these technologies, arguing that the public and regulators should ask questions about the data sets that are used to train A.I. systems, the identities of the engineers working behind the scenes to ensure the technology functions correctly, and how the products are being tested and by what standards.
“These are the things we want to know, just like you would ask about any other basic product or service before you rolled it out to the market,” he said.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
A kinder, gentler Elon Musk wants the public to know that Tesla is a company for anyone who is ‘an investor in earth,’ by Andrea Guzman
Brewers are using ChatGPT and other A.I. to develop new beer recipes, by Chris Morris
Artificial intelligence like ChatGPT is on the brink of an ‘iPhone moment’ thanks to ‘warp-speed’ development, Bank of America says, by Prarthana Prakash
The A.I. revolution is here. Here’s how leaders can prepare employees for the new workforce, by Paige McGlauflin
The CEO of one of the world’s biggest media companies just said A.I. is making some journalists obsolete as he plans staff cuts, by Will Daniel
BEFORE YOU GO
A title held for 48 hours. Elon Musk briefly reclaimed his title as the world’s richest person, only to lose it again to French billionaire Bernard Arnault, the founder of luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. The latter’s wealth went up by about $2 billion after a share buyback sent the company’s stock upward. Meanwhile, Tesla shares fell more than 5% on Wednesday after traders were disappointed by the company’s Investor Day.
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