“The China question to me is almost a red herring because there’s so little being done to protect user privacy generally in the US,” said Sara Collins, a senior policy counsel at non-profit public interest group Public Knowledge. “The thing I would be concerned about is the same stuff that we’re concerned about with Facebook or with Google. It’s their data privacy practices, what they’re doing with that data, how they’re monetizing it and what adverse effects are there on users.”
One measure that could start addressing those concerns is a federal privacy bill that is making its way through Congress. The American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) would “actually create a privacy framework for all these companies that would affect TikTok and its business model,” said Collins, whose employer Public Knowledge works on content moderation and regulation issues. (Public Knowledge has accepted donations from TikTok.)
In the meantime, states are taking matters into their own hands. California passed a landmark child only safety bill that would require platforms such as TikTok and Instagram to vet any products that are geared toward children before rolling them out and implement privacy protections for younger users by default.
Marc Faddoul, the co-director of Tracking Exposed, an organization that keeps tabs on how TikTok’s algorithm works, thinks congressional leaders’ focus on the platform’s China connections misses the mark on pushing for more answers about the app’s algorithm.