TikTok ban is political theater

David MoonBlog

Listening to politicians justify their support for the new TikTok ban, it is difficult to determine if the true purpose of the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversaries Act” is to protect our national security from China or our children from mindless videos. It doesn’t matter, however, because the law won’t accomplish either.

For members of the fax machine generation, TikTok is a file hosting platform on which users share short videos, most of which likely reduce a viewer’s IQ a small percentage that increases with each day a person spends on the platform. Imagine a cross between Facebook and The Gong Show. TikTok claims it has a billion users, 150 million of whom are in the U.S. The company is owned by ByteDance, a private Chinese company with investors from around the world, including a number of U.S. shareholders.

Chinese companies are subject to the country’s National Intelligence Law, requiring organizations to comply with Chinese government intelligence gathering requests. That sounds pretty ominous, but it is similar to U.S. government authorities granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). Specifically, section 702 of FISA requires “the compelled assistance of electronic communications service providers to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

To be clear: I am not suggesting some overall moral equivalence between the Chinese Communist Party and the Democrats or Republicans. But it is farcical to feign outrage that the Chinese government would utilize technology to accumulate the massive amounts of data U.S. citizens willingly place at risk when using their phones. It is certainly easier for the Chinese to do it through a ByteDance subsidiary, but if Facebook or AT&T has all of your personal data, there are smart people working on behalf of most first-world countries who also have that data. And the TikTok ban bill does nothing to change that.

Although the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversaries Act does nothing to protect Americans from foreign adversaries, I have pretty high confidence that our government aggressively pursues other methods of protection, the most valuable of which are probably via technologies and other methods that most of us don’t know even exist. Which is why it is hilarious to watch our elected legislators embarrass themselves when they try to discuss anything technology related. If you ever find yourself bored and need some cheap entertainment, don’t open your TikTok app. Instead, search The Google for “Congress embarrassing technology questions” videos. Watching the late Senator Orrin Hatch awkwardly interrogating Mark Zuckerberg is cringe-worthy fun.

Of course, if you watch those videos on YouTube, Google will know what you’ve been watching. And so will any other company or decent teenage computer hacker – as will any government that wants to know.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.