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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Is banning TikTok bad politics? Some U.S. officials think so.

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Thursday! Here’s to hoping they can keep the lights on this time at today’s “Twitter Files” hearing. Send tips to:

Below: House Republicans target the FTC’s Twitter probe, and senators sound off on Section 230. First:

Is banning TikTok bad politics? Some U.S. officials think so.

U.S. policymakers for years have called for restricting or banning the popular video-sharing app TikTok, citing alleged national security risks. But in recent weeks a number of politicians have touched on an often unspoken consideration: These moves may not play well with voters. 

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo offered a candid assessment of how banning TikTok might land with constituents in a Bloomberg News interview. “The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever,” she said. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), who has been leading calls to ban the app, took umbrage at the remarks on Wednesday, saying security concerns are all that should matter. 

“If TikTok is bad for America … should the fact that it is popular among people under the age of 35 be the reason we don’t take strong action against it?” Rubio asked during a Senate hearing on worldwide threats with intelligence leaders.

“Not from my perspective,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who warned that TikTok being owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance “screams out with national security concerns.”

Raimondo did not appear to suggest that political baggage should be a driving factor in discussions about TikTok, and she said other concerns — such as the free speech rights of users — should be weighed in. “However much I hate TikTok — and I do, because I see the addiction in the bad s--- that it serves kids — you know, this is America,” she said.

But the Commerce chief isn’t the first U.S. official to consider the political implications of a potential ban — so have those pushing for tighter restrictions.

In 2020, President Donald Trump initially threatened to ban TikTok from operating in the United States, but ultimately sought instead to force ByteDance to spin off the app to a U.S. buyer. (The orders ran into legal roadblocks in the courts and were later rescinded by President Biden.)

As my colleagues Drew Harwell and Elizabeth Dwoskin reported in October, political considerations factored into that call, which came just weeks before the presidential election.

“Trump ultimately decided against a TikTok ban before the 2020 election after being shown internal polls suggesting the move would hurt his standing with young people and suburban moms,” they wrote citing a former Trump aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement earlier this week that, “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.”

Together, the data points offer a rare glimpse into how public opinion could be factoring into talks about how to rein in the app, which is wildly popular with younger users.

Surveys have offered mixed results on the extent to which voters support a TikTok ban. 

A July 2020 poll by Morning Consult found that the public was largely split on a ban, with 29 percent supporting it, 33 percent opposing it and 38 percent undecided. But an August 2020 survey by Harris Poll found that a majority of Americans backed a potential ban, and a December Rasmussen Reports poll found most voters support federal legislation to ban TikTok.  

Some of the findings, however, appear to track closely with Raimondo’s remarks: The July 2020 Morning Consult poll found that resistance to a TikTok ban was much stronger among younger users, with 59 percent of Gen Z and 47 percent of millennial respondents opposing it. 

The polls, which focus on adults, also do not factor in most teens, a vast majority of which use the app according to an August 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center.

The results could pose a test for political messaging strategies focused on attacking TikTok’s links to China, which have become particularly pervasive among Republican officials. 

Our top tabs

House Republicans come to Musk’s aid against FTC

A months-long Federal Trade Commission investigation into Twitter’s privacy practices has drawn the ire of House Republicans, who are fanning allegations the agency is targeting the company now that it’s owned by Elon Musk, my colleague Cat Zakrzewski reports

“That investigation expanded in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover, as former employees warned that broad staff departures of key employees could leave the company unable to comply with the agreements it made with the FTC to protect data privacy,” she wrote. Republicans are now arguing the agency is “using its privacy probe to thwart Musk’s absolutist vision of free speech on Twitter — a startling example, they say, of liberal overreach,” Cat wrote.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) earlier this week released an 18-page report including excerpts of letters the FTC sent to Twitter, accusing the agency under Chair Lina Khan of “orchestrating an aggressive campaign to harass Twitter” and deluging the company with demands. In a Twitter thread Wednesday, FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar said FTC investigations “are straightforward and nonpolitical.”

TikTok makes fresh push to ease European data concerns

TikTok announced new safeguards for European users’ data on Wednesday as it looks to head off increasing government scrutiny overseas, the Associated Press’s Kelvin Chan reports.

“TikTok will tighten access to user data in a process overseen by outside auditors as well as beef up privacy protection,” according to the report. 

Theo Bertram, the company’s vice president for European government relations and public policy, said in a blog post they are looking to create “a secure enclave for European TikTok user data.”

In recent weeks, the European Union’s executive branch, Parliament and council have all banned use of the app from government devices, following similar prohibitions in Canada and the United States. 

Senators: Section 230 changes are coming

A bipartisan group of senators said at a hearing Wednesday that support for revising the tech industry’s liability protections is growing, the latest warning to Silicon Valley companies, CNN’s Brian Fung reports

“Here’s a message to Big Tech: Reform is coming,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “I can’t predict it’ll be in the next couple of weeks, or the next couple of months. But if you listen, you will hear a mounting consensus and a demand from the American public that we need to act in a bipartisan way.”

According to the report, “Lawmakers from both parties praised the Supreme Court for considering Section 230 when it heard Gonzalez v. Google, a case about whether YouTube can be sued for algorithmically suggesting terrorist-created videos to users. … But the senators said that however the Court rules, it is up to Congress to rewrite the law so that members of the public can take platforms to court and hold them accountable.”

Agency scanner

The FBI Just Admitted It Bought US Location Data (WIRED)

Palantir lands $99.6 mln deal with U.S. State Department (Reuters)

Feds investigating Tesla over complaints that steering wheels are falling off while driving (NBC News)

Hill happenings

Senator's TikTok whistleblower alleges data abuses (Axios)

Schumer hires Warren antitrust staffer as new chief counsel (Politico)

Inside the industry

Meta doesn’t want to police the metaverse. Kids are paying the price. (Naomi Nix)

Google’s Plan to Catch ChatGPT Is to Stuff AI Into Everything (Bloomberg)

Competition watch

Microsoft tells UK it will license 'Call of Duty' to Sony for 10 years (Reuters)


What’s a scanner? Gen Z is discovering workplace tech. (Tatum Hunter)

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