Hawley Calls Apple, TikTok ‘Two Sides of the Same Coin’ in Tech Groveling to China

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) listens as acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2019. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

Big Tech hawk Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) leveled heavy criticism at two mainstream technology firms during a Senate subcommittee hearing that the Senator chaired Tuesday on Chinese threats to data, after executives from both Apple and Tik Tok declined to testify in the hearing.

Hawley left two conspicuously open seats at the witness table, and gave a scathing opening statement which accused the companies of being “two sides of the same coin when it comes to data security: the danger of Chinese tech platforms’ entry into the U.S. market, and the danger of American tech companies’ operations in China.”

At the hearing, Hawley read a statement from Tik Tok, a Chinese-owned video-sharing platform popular among American youth, which stated that “Tik Tok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China or other countries, we have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content, and we would not do so if asked.”

The senator then referenced a report from the Washington Post that Tik Tok is controlled by its Chinese parent company ByteDance over what can be shared on the app, “in keeping with China’s restrictive view of acceptable speech.”

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“Tik Tok should answer for these discrepancies. They should answer for the millions of Americans who use their product with no idea of its risks,” Hawley demanded. “They should’ve been here today, but after this letter to this committee, they must now appear, under oath, to tell the truth about their company and its ambitions and what they’re doing with our data.”

“ . . . We don’t know what China can do with this kind of social data in aggregate, what it tells China about our society. They can see who we talk to, what we talk about, where we congregate, what we capture on video. Not all of TikTok’s users are just kids, some work in government or for the military, others are celebrities or work for major American companies in positions of influence. What does it mean for China to have a window into such users’ social lives? Why would we leave that window open?”

Hawley also criticized Apple and its CEO Tim Cook, who in October took charge of the board of of Tsinghua University’s business school, for “risking compromise with authoritarianism.”

“Apple’s business model and business practices are increasingly entangled with China, a fact that they would rather we not think too much about. China is essential to Apple’s bottom line, both on the supply and the demand sides of their business. Apple’s investments in Chinese production have helped build the scientific and manufacturing capacity or America’s greatest geopolitical rival,” Hawley warned.

“ . . . Apple frequently talks about encryption, but where are those encryption keys for the data stored? China. Apple says it has control of those keys, but who knows what that means, and Apple isn’t here to tell us. If you’ve got family in China or business contacts there, you cannot count on iMessage encryption to keep your interactions secure from Chinese authorities, and if you’re a Uighur or a Chinese dissident or a protestor in Hong Kong, Apple’s corporate values won’t do much to protect you.”

Hawley has long been a critic of China, most recently proposing a bill to call for sanctions against Chinese officials who have been complicit in police crackdowns against Hong Kong protestors.

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