Microsoft CEO Politely Confirms Trump TikTok Fracas Was Dumb, Performative, Nonsense
from the not-helping dept
Last year we noted how the calls to ban TikTok didn’t make a whole lot of sense. For one thing, a flood of researchers have shown that TikTok is doing all the same things as many other foreign and domestic adtech-linked services we seem intent to…do absolutely nothing about.
Secondly, the majority of the most vocal pearl-clutchers over the app (Josh Hawley, etc.) haven’t cared a whit about things like consumer privacy or internet security, highlighting how the yearlong TikTok freak out was more about performative politics than policy. The wireless industry SS7 flaw? US cellular location data scandals? The rampant lack of any privacy or security standards in the internet of things? The need for election security funding?
Most of the folks who spent last year hyperventilating about TikTok haven’t made so much as a peep on these other subjects. Either you actually care about consumer privacy and internet security or you don’t, and a huge swath of those hyperventilating about TikTok have been utterly absent from the broader conversation. In fact, many of them have done everything in their power to scuttle any effort to have even modest privacy guidelines for the internet era, and fought every effort to improve and properly fund election security. Again, that’s because for many it’s more about politics than serious, adult tech policy.
After Trump Inc proposed banning TikTok, you’ll recall the administration came up with another dumb idea. Basically, they suggested selling ByteDance-owned TikTok to Trump allies over at Oracle and Walmart. It was just glorified cronyism, though for whatever reason a lot of the press and policy circles seriously and meaningfully analyzed the move as if it was anything else. It wasn’t, and quickly fell apart like the dumb house of cards it was.
At one point Microsoft was tossed around as a potential suitor for TikTok as well. And in conversations this week with Kara Swisher, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed the whole TikTok tapdance last year was every bit as stupid as we assumed it was. He’s diplomatic about it, but Nadella notes how Trump’s public posturing about TikTok wasn’t backed by, well, anything:
“President Trump, I think had sort of a particular point of view on what he was trying to get done there, and then just dropped off,” Nadella said. “I mean, it was interesting. There was a period of time when I felt that the [U.S. government] had some particular set of requirements, and then they just disappeared.”
Of course that “particular point of view” was performative political populism, exploiting racism and insincere “privacy concerns” to try to transfer a popular overseas company to U.S. control in an obviously cronyistic way. The press and some policy wonks spent a lot of time trying to dress it up as something more grandiose than that, but that’s what it was.
Of course if you’re genuinely concerned about U.S. privacy and security, there’s plenty policymakers can do. Support the passage of a real, simple, and clearly written U.S. privacy law for the internet era to help bring accountability to bad actors. Support actually funding and staffing intentionally-handcuffed U.S. privacy regulators. Put your support behind genuine election security reform (not to be conflated with voter suppression). Work on encouraging transparency in security research. Back some standards for the internet of things. Start pondering meaningful reform of the largely unaccountable adtech sector in general.
Specifically hyperventilating about Tiktok and Tiktok only because it’s (gasp) owned by the Chinese and (gasp) successful was an easy way to score political points with nationalists and Trump’s buddies at Oracle, but it didn’t actually solve anything whatever. It was dumb, performative nonsense that should have been called out as dumb, performative nonsense from the outset. Instead, a sizeable chunk of reporters and wonks treated it like serious policy.