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Suburbanites weigh in on potential ban of popular app

Suburbanites weigh in on potential ban of popular app
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The TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen.
Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi
Daily Herald File Photo

With a bill that could potentially ban TikTok from the United States hanging in the balance in Washington, many suburbanites aren’t convinced the measure is good one.

That’s despite the apparent urgency to resolve what legislators say is an imminent national security threat. Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg, who introduced the legislation, says it’s vital to get a handle on the popular Chinese-owned phone app — especially in the face of an upcoming national election.

“The technological risks associated with TikTok became very apparent very early on,” said Krishnamoorthi, who is a member of a House committee that covers issues regarding the Chinese Communist Party. “Through a series of classified briefings, unclassified briefings, and meetings with experts and government officials, Republicans and Democrats across the board, almost uniformly, said that this particular platform in the hands of the CCP is very, very dangerous to our national security.”

Not a complete ban, the bill would require TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to sell the app to a company that is not based in “a foreign adversary.” It passed the House overwhelmingly last week, garnering a 352-65 vote.

The legislation is now in the Senate where its prospect are unclear, though President Joe Biden has said if Congress passes the measure, he’ll sign it.

But some suburbanites have been quick to question regulating TikTok for data privacy when the U.S. is one of the last developed countries to put meaningful data privacy laws regarding social media in place.

“Let’s talk about the hypocritical, ethical situation of why only TikTok. Facebook collects data. Instagram collects data. Twitter collects data — well, X. Every single one of them collects data. If your issue really is data privacy, then why aren’t those also being considered?” Gurnee resident Brianna Powvens said. “We don’t want China taking our data, but we’re OK that the U.S. is collecting data. I think that’s a point that’s missed.”

Powvens’ concern aligns with other Chicago-area residents who feel Congress has overlooked data privacy as a whole, and that a ban of TikTok would be too little, too late.

“I don’t think (TikTok) collects or shares any more than any other Chinese-manufactured device out there and as a parent of a 20-year-old and an 18-year-old, I think it’s fear of a lack of control of the narrative from an older generation,” said Kim Lang of South Elgin. “All our data is being sold and bought at a price and be it China, our own government or corporations — we don’t have privacy anymore whether we want to believe it or not.”

The legislation has further exposed a cultural divide in which some Americans are protective of their data and others have the attitude that their data is already out there, so it doesn’t matter to them.

The latter is an outlook one consumer advocate calls “data nihilism.”

“It’s usually given in the context of corporate surveillance. My sense behind why people are saying it in this context is they’re probably reacting more to the nature of this particular debate. Maybe they feel like it’s political grandstanding or TikTok is being unfairly called out,” said R.J. Cross, who is the director of the Don’t Sell My Data Campaign at the Public Interest Research Group.

Cross said people’s data perceptions are further divided based on who is gathering their information: domestic governments, foreign governments or corporations.

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While these divides can in part be traced to demographics such as age and political affiliation, Cross has found that what’s most at play is an individual’s personal relationship with social media and whether they or someone close to them has been a victim of data theft or hyper-targeted scams.

“That’s one of these negative ramifications of having this huge data economy, where companies are incentivized to collect as much information about you as possible, that we are concerned about,” Cross said.

Because the U.S. is lacking in comprehensive privacy legislation — and efforts by state governments to implement their own laws haven’t seen much success — Cross said the overarching solution is to pass policy that takes a holistic approach to limiting how companies can collect, use and sell our data.

That lack of data legislation in the U.S. is one that is not lost on some suburban residents.

“I think a lot of people forget that as users of social media, we’re the products. It’s our data that’s the product,” Carole Delahunty of Mount Prospect said. “Our privacy is up for grabs, but that’s true for all social media, not just ones owned by the Chinese government.”

Given TikTok’s popularity for activism and information sharing, especially among younger generations, the potential ban has also sparked widespread free speech concerns.

“I just watch TikTok because I like the kitten videos and the dance videos and that sort of thing, but I know a lot of younger people in their early 20s who really depend on it for communication and news,” Delahunty said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of other civil rights and civil liberties groups opposed the legislation, arguing in a letter to the House “it would violate the First Amendment rights of Americans across the country who rely on TikTok for information, communication, advocacy and entertainment.”

“Make no mistake: the House’s TikTok bill is a ban, and it’s blatant censorship,” Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at ACLU, said in a statement following last week’s vote. “Today, the House of Representatives voted to violate the First Amendment rights of more than half of the country. The Senate must reject this unconstitutional and reckless bill.”

Krishnamoorthi refutes those concerns, arguing the bill balances users’ rights to express themselves by requiring a sale of the platform rather than an outright ban.

“There’s no First Amendment right to espionage, and there’s no First Amendment right to harm our national security,” he said.

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• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.

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Content creator Jensen Savannah produces a client video at El Puro Cuban Restaurant, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Associated Press

Restaurant owner Ana Acela Perez, from left, assists content creator Jensen Savannah, and her fiance and brand manager Jorge Millares, with a video for her business at El Puro Cuban Restaurant on March 14 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Associated Press

Devotees of TikTok gather at the Capitol in Washington on March 13, as the House passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app if its China-based owner doesn’t sell.
Associated Press



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