Can You Think of Anybody Else?

“They can’t treat our pledges like that.”

Tonight on “60 Minutes,” they are running a piece featuring rightist complaints about TikTok.

Here’s the complaint:

Klon Kitchen: Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and you saw a news report that China had distributed 100 million sensors around the United States, and that any time an American walked past one of these sensor, this sensor automatically collected off of your phone your name, your home address, your personal network, who you’re friends with, your online viewing habits and a whole host of other pieces of information. Well, that’s precisely what TikTok is. It has 100 million U.S. users, it collects all of that information.

And more, like many U.S. social media companies, TikTok asks users for access to their cameras, microphones, photos, videos, and contacts. More obscure data, like “keystroke patterns,” are collected from everyone using the app.

Bill Whitaker: Keystrokes? What does that tell them?

Kara Frederick: The patterns and the rhythms of the way that you strike the keyboard, it can basically say, “This device belongs to this user.” And you can do a lot with that if you are a foreign government. It’s very, very invasive.

Gee, can we think of any other entities that do all that? If you change “China” to “big businesses,” “TikTok” to “corporate marketing,” and “foreign government” to “corporate planner,” nothing else in this complaint changes.

Not, of course, that CBS mentions this screamingly obvious fact.

The other unasked question is who are TikTok’s customers? The answer, again, is the same as it would be for the Columbia Broadcasting Service: big business marketers looking for access to eyeballs and eardrums.

As for China, the obvious question is what a Communist Party of the sort being conjured by clucking American conservatives would ever do with a warehouse full of data about American teenagers. If you can think of any plausible military or ideological use, let me know, because I can’t.

The truth there is what sociologist John Lie says it is: “the Chinese miracle has progressed along the same track as other miracle economies in post-World War II Northeast Asia.” As a result, its elite wants TikTok’s data flows not for politics but for the self-same reason our overclass (or that in Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan) does. It wants to keep selling people doodads, and desperately needs to figure out how to do that.

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