To take on Big Tech, America must take on China, too
Published 9:25 am Tuesday, April 25, 2023
So much of what Americans do online happens under the prying eyes of Big Tech companies, even as we watch these platforms exercise their disdain for free speech, exploit our children for profit, and engage in anticompetitive business practices. When you are on a tech giant’s platform, you – and your personal information – are the product. It is long past time that Americans regain control of their “virtual you” from these tech behemoths. This is my primary focus as Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security. But how can we do this? The answer reads like something out of a spy novel: in order to take on Big Tech, we must take on China, too.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made it its mission to stop the U.S. from leading in the tech sector, a place where our country has always thrived. Its plan has many parts, but the worst is the one happening right under our noses – infiltrating tech in the U.S. itself. The worst example is the Chinese-owned TikTok app, which even TikTok itself can’t deny gives the CCP access to the private data of 150 million Americans. So, when you or your kids use sites like TikTok, your data isn’t just harvested and sold within the U.S., but also goes to our adversaries as well. And unfortunately, that means they can use your “virtual you” to their own advantage.
We’ve seen other Chinese apps enter the U.S. market, including discount clothing site Shein, e-Commerce company Temu, and editing app CapCut (like TikTok, also owned by ByteDance). Perhaps even worse, some U.S. companies used equipment provided by Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE in their networks – many of whom received subsidies from the U.S. government to do so until Congress and the FCC pulled the plug on that income stream for the CCP.
In my role on the Senate Commerce and Senate Judiciary Committees, I am committed to identifying and stopping the CCP’s abuses of Americans’ data. In the 116th Congress, I chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Tech Task Force which examined tech companies’ violations of consumers’ online privacy and explored how we can implement better protections for Americans. I introduced the BROWSER Act and the SAFE Data Act to create a national standard to govern how companies collect and use U.S. consumer data. I have sent letters to TikTok to get information about their business practices and hold them accountable for how they use U.S. consumer data. And last year, I sponsored the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act which promotes minors’ safety online and protects their information from being misused by tech companies, including TikTok.
Here in Tennessee, we also know how IP theft — of which China is the biggest perpetrator —can harm creators, including the songwriters and musicians who call the Volunteer State home. In 2003, I founded the Congressional Songwriters Caucus, and two years later, I sponsored legislation to protect songwriters and artists from rampant IP theft.
Who owns the “virtual you?” Right now, Big Tech and the CCP are fighting for the privilege, but I believe that it’s time for Washington to help put control back in the hands of tech users, not tech companies. It’s time to protect ourselves and our kids from constant privacy violations, data theft, and the threat of foreign espionage. Despite our polarizing times, Congress and the American people can and must unite on this. I will continue to lead on this issue to protect the online safety, privacy, and data of all Tennesseans.
(Marsha Blackburn represents Tennnessee in the United States Senate)