The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that could potentially lead to a ban on TikTok unless its parent company, ByteDance, sells the app. However, the Senate may take months to address this legislation, so a ban is not imminent. This bill highlights the challenges in data security reform in the U.S., as real oversight continues to be avoided. The focus of this bill is on national security concerns, particularly regarding Chinese access to U.S. citizen data through TikTok.

The U.S. currently uses a risk-based approach to tech oversight, addressing issues only after they have already arisen. In contrast, Japan and some European countries use a precautionary approach to anticipate risks. Tech companies have thrived financially in the U.S. due to minimal constraints on data gathering and monetization. However, China and influential apps like TikTok expose the regulatory vacuum created by this approach, impacting consumer safety.

Instead of taking comprehensive action to protect consumer data, the House bill targets ByteDance as a foreign policy threat and offers frameworks to designate other foreign adversary-controlled applications. This bill could encourage targeting based on national origin and passports, potentially affecting international talent. An alternative approach would be to create guardrails for all firms operating in the U.S., aligning with global democratic allies already implementing data security protections for citizens.

While action from the U.S. president and Congress is necessary, it is not sufficient. A complementary strategy could involve creating metrics to rate companies based on data security, similar to environmental practices tracking. Additionally, industry standards for data security and increased funding for data security education could help consumers think more critically about data use. Investments in in-person communities could also strengthen offline advocacy for consumer interests.

The House bill may not be what is needed or wanted by many, as demonstrated by calls from TikTok and its users to congressional offices. This legislation may show the limitations of the current U.S. regulatory landscape in addressing data security challenges. In a world increasingly driven by data, there is a need to expand beyond these limits to better protect consumer interests and privacy. Aynne Kokas, author of “Trafficking Data: How China Is Winning the Battle for Digital Sovereignty,” emphasizes the importance of comprehensive data security protections and international alignment on this issue.

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