door rusty lock

LAEDA: Privacy double standards?

As I write this, there is a standing Trump order to ban China-made social media sensation TikTok from the United States by 15 September, unless a US company can acquire it. This is all over the news along with other news related to Chinese-made products and solutions. But, why is there so much focus on this one single video app by Beijing-based ByteDance?

That is simply because what happens to Tik Tok more or less could set the precedent for what is in store for other Chinese products. Many eyes are watching.

To understand the TikTok story as it pans out, is to know of the long series of events leading up to the ban order – the tit for tat trade war, decoupling of US-China relations (more like unravelling), the scramble Bytedance’s founder has made to “legitimise” Tik Tok in the eyes of countries unfriendly to it and more.

Take US-China trade relations out of the picture and TikTok’s downward spiral could be pinned to privacy and security concerns that many countries have over how it collects and uses user data.  In this way, is Tik Tok a privacy threat? Yes, but then so would most apps and even social media platforms.

A counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, John Davisson was reported as saying, “I think TikTok’s actions are alarming, and it is good that federal regulators are paying close attention to it. But it is ultimately one of many platforms that collect, and use, and analyse, and reply on, and profit off of personal data.”

Let’s not forget Big Tech, and four of its CEOs having had to face US Congress in late July and deal with accusations that they stifle competition and abuse market power. The data privacy and security narrative may have been downplayed, but ultimately Big Tech’s market power is possible because they have all that data and are leveraging it to their advantage.

If this is about the risk of foreign governments holding citizen data of another government, then what do you say to government pressure to insert vulnerabilities into technology products? A new piece of legislation (Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act or LAEDA) was introduced by US senators that would require companies to build encryption backdoors, and/or require companies or people to comply with government demands for “technical assistance” (decrypting) for law enforcement investigations.

In other words, they would have tech companies intentionally build vulnerabilities into tech products, in the name of aiding law enforcement. But these vulnerabilities are also at risk of exploitation by hackers and nation-state actors.

Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, calls the bill “a full-frontal nuclear assault on encryption in the United States.”

Since citizen data security and privacy means so little, isn’t banning Chinese apps in the name of security and privacy concerns, a double standard move?