TikTok’s Response to Congress, Widening ‘Data Divide,’ New NTIA Reports and Dashboard

TikTok addressed the revelation that employees tracked the physical location of at least one U.S. journalist.

TikTok’s Response to Congress, Widening ‘Data Divide,’ New NTIA Reports and Dashboard
Photo of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in 2020 by the World Economic Forum used with permission

May 9, 2023 — TikTok emphasized its independence from the Chinese government and defended its safety and privacy practices in a 54-page response to nearly 400 follow-up questions that were posed by lawmakers after CEO Shou Zi Chew’s appearance at a hearing in March.

“TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese Government,” the letter stated in response to a question from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Nor would TikTok honor such a request if one were ever made.”

Throughout the letter, TikTok vehemently opposed the proposed ban that has gained support among a broad contingent of lawmakers.

“A ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country’s economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is not the solution to a solvable problem,” the company wrote. “TikTok does not believe divestment would address the fundamental concerns voiced by this committee, as a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”

The letter also addressed the revelation that TikTok employees tracked the physical location of at least one U.S. journalist on behalf of parent company ByteDance — referring to the incident as “the Misguided Effort.”

Although TikTok has broadly promoted its $1.5 billion “Project Texas” initiative as a solution to lawmakers’ privacy concerns, the letter acknowledged that the breach took place after the establishment of the U.S. Data Security subsidiary and that the accessed data had been stored on U.S. servers.

Widening ‘data divide’ will exacerbate inequalities, says Center for Data Innovation

Rapidly developing artificial intelligence applications are exposing a widening gap in data collection that could exacerbate inequalities in healthcare, education, financial services and more, according to a new report from the Center for Data Innovation.

Although Congress and several state legislatures are currently seeing bipartisan momentum for digital privacy legislation that restricts data collection, the report argues that a data-rich society is actually beneficial for individuals, businesses and government — so long as the data collection is equitable and comprehensive.

“Without substantial efforts to increase data representation and access, there will be individuals and communities who are left behind in an increasingly data-driven world,” said Gillian Diebold, policy analyst and co-author of the report, in a press release.

The report proposes 16 actions that lawmakers can take to address the data divide, ranging from demographic-specific data protection measures to investment in smart cities. These recommendations fall into four categories: creating data-friendly privacy regulations, creating more data, enhancing access to data and improving data quality.

Incorporating all four categories into a balanced approach is a critical part of the solution, wrote Diebold and co-author Daniel Castro, director of the Center. “Increasing the amount of data collected without improving data quality will create needless surveillance, and enhancing access to data on its own will be fruitless without better, more representative data,” the report concluded.

NTIA highlights federal broadband investments in new dashboard and reports

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Monday released a pair of reports highlighting federal investments in broadband, alongside a new dashboard that for the first time reported Tribal broadband funding and included data by federal program at the state level.

The reports “show how Federal agencies across the Biden-Harris Administration are working together to target funding through the Internet for All initiative and close the digital divide,” said NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson.

The 2022 Federal Broadband Funding Report found that appropriated investments in broadband during the fiscal year 2021 marked a substantial increase — 694 percent — from the previous year’s funding. The agency also established a model for assessing economic impacts, indicating that broadband investments could add $140 billion to the rural economy and significantly improve small business survival rates.

Among several key takeaways, the report emphasized the benefits of automated data processing and strong maps, the importance of interagency contributions, and the need for further standardization and monitoring of broadband progress.

The 2022 Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth Annual Report detailed the recent accomplishments of the office tasked with administering several broadband and digital equity grant programs.

In the coming years, OICG plans to “expand coordination with organizations such as states, localities, Tribal nations, industry, community organizations, and nonprofits to build toward achieving universal access to high-speed internet networks,” the report concluded.

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