Discover more from Don't Worry About the Vase
Given the Restrict Act, Don't Ban TikTok
While others have already written similar posts, given my previous position it seems necessary for me to do so as well - the Restrict Act is a no good very bad bill, and having seen the bill I realize that I was wrong to support banning TikTok.
For a while I have been in favor of banning TikTok, if it does not divest its Chinese ownership and modify the software to stop collecting outside user data. TikTok is Chinese spyware. Letting it be installed on most phones, given the data it is collecting, is not something we can or should abide.
Then someone actually proposed a bill, S 686 or the Restrict Act. I was reminded why it is almost never a good idea to ban things. Rather than a narrow bill to allow the banning of TikTok, we got a bill that vastly expands government powers, a Patriot Act for the Internet.
This is why we cannot have nice things. These people clearly cannot be trusted to regulate such matters.
So I’m admitting I was wrong. TikTok is still Chinese spyware, it is still not a good use of your time, you personally should not use it.
If this is how things are, however, then that’s where this ends. Don’t ban TikTok.
TikTok Is Chinese Spyware
TikTok is Chinese Spyware. It can’t read your texts and emails directly, but it can do a lot of other things short of that. If we have the ability to ban TikTok without vastly destroying our civil liberties in general, we should ban TikTok.
Spying is the most commonly cited reason for banning TikTok, because it’s the easiest to prove. Tiktok has admitted tracking journalists’ physical movements and sending the data to its Chinese parent company. But physical location is probably only the tip of the iceberg of the data TikTok can collect, which includes faceprints, voiceprints, browsing history, text messages, and pretty much anything you do on your phone. And as Ben Thompson wrote back in 2020, that information basically becomes the property of the Chinese Communist Party.
All Chinese Internet companies are compelled by the country’s National Intelligence Law to turn over any and all data that the government demands, and that power is not limited by China’s borders. Moreover, this requisition of data is not subject to warrants or courts, as is the case with U.S. government requests for data from Facebook or any other entity…If anything it would be a something of a surprise were it not[.]
What I do not understand is why Apple and Google haven’t taken care of this for us. If I was running an app store and I found out a popular app was collecting a lot of the data on everyone’s phone and sending it back, I’d have said “either you fix this in 72 hours or you don’t have an app in our store and we’re issuing a warning to everyone to delete it.” Somehow, that did not happen. It still is not happening. I don’t know why.
There are plenty of other places to post and get similar content. TikTok itself would be easy to spin off or sell to preserve its value. I don’t see any serious threat to free speech here.
It turns out that our government is coming around to the position that our kids all putting Chinese spyware on their phones, and watching whatever videos a Chinese company decides to show them on the basis of an opaque algorithm, might actually be a bad idea?
If ByteDance unloads TikTok, then this would be a pure win for all involved.
If TikTok is actually banned, in many ways that is far better. Americans are spending really quite a lot of time on the app, in ways I doubt are producing much value in any sense, so I’d love to shake that loose. Would there be fallout?
A plurality actually say they favor the ban, and young people mostly don’t vote.
The ones who would be mad would be really mad. This would hit close to home, they are spending hours a day on these little videos… and it’s gone.
Then again? Short attention spans. Plenty of imitators would be ready to go within a day. By the time the election rolled around everyone would bee on NewVid or something. Anyone who says it was a mistake opens themselves up to obvious attacks.
Seems like a highly credible threat. Game theory says they should divest, quickly. That would be that.
It did not help that the Congressional hearing went, by all reports, maximally badly for TikTok. Or that TikTok is said to have responded by filling some users ‘For You’ pages with Pro-Chew content.
That t-shirt saying we would never use the algorithm as propaganda is answering a lot of questions.
There’s just one little problem. Lawmakers are not our friends.
The Restrict Act
After which follows a very exhaustive list of potential things one might deem a risk.
I did a Ctrl-F search for ‘ByteDance’ and ‘TikTok’ in the bill. They appear zero times.
As Reason points out, even ‘social media’ is not mentioned.
‘China’ appears once, on the list of foreign adversaries that can be modified at will.
Accessing anything banned thereby, such as via a VPN, carries a fine of $250k to $1 million, plus criminal penalties of up to 20 years. So does soliciting such access, potentially including instructing someone how to do this.
It's not "disinfo" to say that the Restrict act could be used against individuals.
If your teenage kid gets sad after the Tik Tok ban, and installs a VPN to use their Tik Tok feed anyway, they can be charged with a felony, fined a million dollars, and put in jail for 20 years.
Just read it. And ask a friend who is a lawyer, what they think of it. If they say "Oh wow...." or "Holy..." or "How is this real?!" at any point while reading it, that's bad.
The government can monitor anything that connects to the internet, ban anything it wants at any time, without any notice, via a new ‘Secretary of Communication’ who would be right at home with those of Truth, Peace, Plenty and Love.
None of this is answerable to the public or to Congress.
The term ‘Patriot Act for the internet’ seems highly appropriate.
So, yeah. I want to ban TikTok as Chinese spyware. This bill? Do. Not. Want.