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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Republicans cast Biden as weak on China for not banning TikTok

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: State officials press TikTok on its subpoena compliance, and Twitter faces a major outage. First:

Republicans cast Biden as weak on China for not banning TikTok

For months, the Biden administration has been negotiating a potential deal with TikTok, owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance, to address concerns the app may pose a national security risk. TikTok has testified to Congress that it has never and would not share U.S. user data with the Chinese government, and disputed claims by lawmakers that it poses a security threat. 

But as those discussions have dragged on without a resolution, Republicans have cast Democratic leaders as being too soft on China for not backing a more drastic measure: banning TikTok throughout the United States. 

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio):

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week the administration takes concerns about TikTok “very seriously” but would not comment on talks with TikTok, which are being led by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

“We have been clear about our concerns on apps like TikTok,” she said. “And so, look, we are focused on the challenges of certain countries including China seeking to leverage digital technologies and Americans’ data in ways that present … unacceptable national security risk.”

As part of their critiques, Republicans have dinged the White House for briefing TikTok influencers about the administration’s work on the coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine and reproductive rights, among other topics, as my colleague Taylor Lorenz has reported.

“While the Biden Administration is busy inviting TikTok influencers to the White House to promote a liberal agenda, I’m focused on putting safeguards in place to protect Americans’ privacy and our children,” tweeted Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is testifying to the panel on March 23.

Jean-Pierre said the White House has never allowed the app on its devices. The White House did not return a request for comment. 

“A U.S. ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said.

Republican lawmakers are leveling similar criticisms against their counterparts on Capitol Hill, where a GOP-led panel last week advanced legislation to give Biden more power to ban the app over objections from Democrats.

After the GOP-led House Foreign Affairs Committee last week advanced a proposal to give Biden more power to block the app in the United States in a party-line vote, Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) called out panel Democrats for opposing the measure.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), the panel’s top Democrat, issued a statement after last week’s vote panning the GOP for rushing to pass a “hastily drafted measure” that could harm national security and infringe on users’ free speech rights before the administration completed its review.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is leading a bill to ban the app entirely, has urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to call it up for a vote. The measure has a Democratic co-sponsor in the House, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.), while Sen. Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is a co-sponsor in the Senate.

A Schumer spokesman did not return a request for comment.

The criticisms come as some lawmakers look for a bipartisan path to address concerns about the app, including an incoming bill Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has said he’s pursuing with Republicans laying out a plan for banning or restricting apps like TikTok.

The White House is weighing backing the measure, the New York Times reported Monday, in a move that could shift the spotlight away from its negotiations with TikTok and back on Congress. 

That could put the pressure back on Republicans to strike a deal with Democrats to address concerns about TikTok coming from officials on both sides of the aisle.

Our top tabs

State AGs demand TikTok fork over info in consumer protection probes

A group of 45 attorneys general demanded Monday that tech giant TikTok comply with subpoenas for information sought as part of an ongoing multistate consumer protection probe, Reuters’s David Shepardson reports

“The states are seeking to review internal TikTok communications to determine whether the company engaged in deceptive conduct that harmed mental health of TikTok users, particularly children and teens, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said,” according to the report. TikTok did not immediately comment.

A group of eight states including California and Massachusetts in March launched an investigation into whether TikTok is contributing to physical or mental health issues among younger users, as scrutiny over the app’s potential impact on kids and teens mounts nationwide.

Twitter tweaks trigger massive outages under Musk

Minor changes to Twitter’s code seemingly broke the website in two instances just a month apart, my colleague Faiz Siddiqui reports. “The latest outage came Monday as thousands of users found they could not access links, photos or other key aspects of the site,” he wrote.

“A small API change had massive ramifications,” Twitter CEO Elon Musk tweeted Monday, referring to a tool used by developers who run programs based on Twitter data. “The code stack is extremely brittle for no good reason. Will ultimately need a complete rewrite.”

Faiz added, “In the months since the takeover — and subsequent layoffs — Twitter has faced multiple outages, hampering key features: loading tweets and notifications, sending tweets and direct messages, accessing links and photographs. Each was said — by staffers current and former, or Musk himself — to come as the company made changes to its code.” Musk and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Microsoft challenges U.K. regulator data on proposed Activision Blizzard deal

Tech giant Microsoft is accusing the United Kingdom’s competition regulator — the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) — of overstating the potential impact that making the Call of Duty franchise exclusive to Xbox and PC would have, Axios’s Stephen Tolito reports. The metric is a key point of contention in the regulator’s review of the company’s deal to acquire gaming giant Activision Blizzard.

“A YouGov survey commissioned by Microsoft in January found that just 3% of all PlayStation users would switch to buying an Xbox if Microsoft pulled Call of Duty from PlayStation,” according to the report. The U.K. regulator’s own survey “estimates that 15% of avid Call of Duty PlayStation players (playing at least 10 hours or spending at least $100 on the series in the past year) would switch to Xbox.”

The report adds, “Microsoft has repeatedly denied it would take Call of Duty away from PlayStation or offer it in an inferior state, but the CMA says evidence, including its survey, show Microsoft is incentivized to do so.” The regulator has until April 26 to decide whether to seek to block the deal.

Rant and rave

Twitter users poked fun at the platform as it experienced major outages Monday, limiting the ability to post links and images. Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

ESPN basketball analyst Stephen A. Smith

Big Technology newsletter writer Alex Kantrowitz:

Inside the industry

FBI, Pentagon helped research facial recognition for street cameras, drones (Drew Harwell)

TikTok Rolls Out ‘Project Clover’ to Assure Europeans on Data (Wall Street Journal)

Tech platforms struggle to verify their users' age (Axios)

Utah set to pass law restricting minors from using social media without parental consent (Axios)

Privacy monitor

WhatsApp agrees to be more transparent on policy changes, EU says (Reuters)

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