Wiser! Essay: Donald Trump huffed and puffed over TikTok, but it was all hot air. Joe Biden now seems to be doing the same. Why? It's all about data sovereignty and stopping the other side from getting their hands on it!
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The battle for data sovereignty
BackStory: Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok in the USA. He concocted a plan to have the parent company (Bytedance) bought by a US-controlled business (Oracle). But it was more bluff and bluster than substance. When Joe Biden took over as President, he revoked the former President's administrative order relating to TikTok. But that wasn't the end to it.
Because now, Joe Biden's administration is weighing up new rules and regs aimed at controlling the data used in foreign-owned apps, namely those that come from China.
Whilst the headlines are squarely aimed at TikTok, the social media platform owned by a Chinese company, the concerns for US policymakers apply to all foreign-owned apps that collect user data.
The rules would expand government oversight of apps that could be exploited “by foreign adversaries to steal or otherwise obtain data,” per The Washington Post.
Saloni Sharma, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told The Washington Post, “The Biden administration believes certain countries, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC), seek to leverage digital technologies and Americans’ data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks while advancing authoritarian controls and interests”.
In response, TikTok executives have said US user data is not shared with the Chinese authorities and is stored on servers in Virginia, with backups in Singapore. However, that does not allay the concerns of critics who argue that the servers’ location is irrelevant when China has influence over a company headquartered in Beijing.
TalkingPoint: Data sovereignty is a political football. IMHO, despite the rhetoric, this is less about protecting the data of individual users and more about the economic power struggle between the USA and China (with the EU closely behind).
China has already done the same thing that the US is talking about. Last year, Beijing applied huge restrictions on its BigTech industry when it comes to collecting, storing and having access to data. The only difference; China has already done it whilst the US is thinking about it.
For the US, the big question is what to do about all of the apps borne out of China, not just TikTok. And it's more than just about data. China is already acknowledged to be ahead of the USA when it comes to AI. The Pentagon’s former software chief, Nicolas Chaillan, told the Financial Times last year that the United States “have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years.”
Just as we saw with the Fed's recent stagnant response on CBDCs, the US administration is again slow to act. It has been 3 years since Trump first expressed concern about TikTok and sovereign data. The former President's failed attempt at palming TikTok off on Oracle has been long forgotten, but the concern still exists. Whether it is genuine or not is a moot point. Meanwhile, China is just getting on with it.
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