On May 2, the Political Awareness Committee (PAC) hosted Political Science Professors Tim Collins from St. Olaf College and Jon Olson from Carleton College to discuss the Restrict Act. The two speakers discussed the contents of the act and it’s impact on social media platforms including TikTok. The Restrict Act is a congressional act seeking to mitigate foreign threats involving technology. Collins and Olson emphasized the concern that, through the use of data collection, TikTok users are having their privacy violated. However, they also noted this concern applies to American companies such as Meta and Google.
Collins spoke first, arguing that although Tik Tok is involved in data collection, violation of privacy is commonplace among big tech companies like Google and Meta. These companies’ services have a notorious record of collecting information on users’ activity, like their browsing habits, which they then sell to advertisers. This is why someone may google a certain product on one site only for it to appear in an ad on another. Collins made these points to highlight why the Restrict Act would not protect Americans’ privacy due to it already being infringed upon by American companies.
Next, Olson spoke, asking questions to facilitate the discussion and then explaining that the motivation to ban Tik Tok is not just about an issue of privacy but a political one as well. There is concern that if Tik Tok’s parent company, Bytedance, demands the collected data, then China could develop a more robust AI system and outcompete the U.S. in terms of technology.
While U.S. tech companies are motivated by profit, the U.S. government is concerned that Tik Tok is motivated by China’s political interests, which poses a threat to national security. Collins noted that this may be a product of sinophobia, considering that U.S. tech companies collect data in a similarly intrusive manner. Collins and Olson argue that, instead of the Restrict Act, there should be greater company transparency for social media users to be fully aware of what kinds of data is being collected.