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Below: Ads on Twitter pages for white nationalists could test Elon Musk’s relationship with brands, and Microsoft prepares for meetings with the FTC. First:
States are joining the TikTok crackdown
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been pushing for years to ban federal government workers from downloading TikTok on their devices, with limited success.
The campaign has come amid broader regulatory scrutiny over whether the popular video-sharing app poses national security risks, a charge the company has fought back against.
Now a growing number of state officials are picking up the effort.
In the past week, North Dakota and Maryland have banned the use of TikTok on some government devices.
Last Tuesday, Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem signed an executive order banning TikTok on the devices of state government agencies, employees and contractors. Noem said “South Dakota will have no part in the intelligence gathering operations of nations who hate us” — an apparent reference to China, where TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based.
On Tuesday, Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued an emergency directive barring use of what his office called “Chinese and Russian-influenced products,” including TikTok, in the executive branch of Maryland’s government. Hogan said the move — which also targets products from Huawei, ZTE, WeChat and Kaspersky — “represents a critical step in protecting Maryland State systems from the cybersecurity threats caused by foreign organizations.”
At least two other states, Nebraska and South Carolina, have partially blocked or are exploring blocking the app for state workers, the Associated Press reports.
And more could soon be on the way — particularly in states led by Republicans, who have in many cases been driving the push to restrict the app’s use more broadly.
Six of Wisconsin’s members of Congress, including outspoken TikTok critic Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, on Tuesday called on their governor to “ban TikTok from Wisconsin government devices and to lead by example and delete TikTok from your own devices.”
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also targeted state procurement of technology products and services like TikTok with links to “foreign countries of concern.”
TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown said they “believe the concerns driving these bans are largely fueled by misinformation about our company.”
“We are always happy to meet with state policymakers to discuss our privacy and security practices,” Brown said in an emailed statement. “We are disappointed that the many state agencies, offices, and universities that have been using TikTok to build communities and connect with constituents will no longer have access to our platform.”
The efforts have been fueled by government concerns that the Chinese government could gain access to U.S. user data through TikTok’s links to China as a ByteDance subsidiary. While the state-level restrictions won’t apply to consumer use, they still deal a blow to the company and could foreshadow further restrictions.
TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas testified to Congress in September that the company has employees based in China who are subject to “very strict access controls around the type of data that they can access and where that data is stored, which is here in the United States.”
Pappas also said that “under no circumstances would we give that data to China.”
Parallel efforts to ban TikTok from federal government devices are ongoing.
In 2020, the House voted in favor of the move as part of its annual massive defense spending package, but it was not ultimately signed into law.
A measure led by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) seeking to enshrine similar restrictions advanced out of the Senate Homeland Security Committee in May 2021 but has yet to be taken up.
The Biden administration is currently reviewing a potential deal to assuage the government’s data privacy and security concerns.
But the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a potential agreement “has run into more delays” amid “a range of concerns, including how TikTok might share information related to the algorithm it uses to determine what videos to show users.”
Meanwhile, top U.S. officials have continued to voice concerns about the social network, with FBI Director Chris Wray saying last week that TikTok’s recommendation algorithm “allows them to manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations.”
“These state-level actions coupled with FBI Director Chris Wray’s recent public comments … make it increasingly difficult to see how the Biden administration can conclude its ongoing review in a way that allows TikTok to keep operating,” Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who has publicly called for the app to be banned in the United States, told me.
But some prominent intelligence officials, including the head of a British intelligence agency, have pushed back on those concerns. And while numerous politicians have assailed the company’s risks, dozens of candidates on both sides of the political aisle have used the app for campaigning.
Our top tabs
Major brands advertised on white nationalists’ Twitter pages
Advertisements by at least three dozen brands — including Amazon, Snap, Uber and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — appeared on the pages of at least two white nationalists, Andrew Anglin and Patrick Casey, my colleague Faiz Siddiqui reports. Accounts of Anglin and Casey had previously been banned on the platform, but they were restored after Twitter owner Elon Musk took control of the company in late October.
“Having ads inadvertently appear next to such content marks the latest challenge to Musk’s relationship with Twitter advertisers,” Faiz writes. Many brands have left the site, and civil rights groups have said advertisers should boycott it because Musk — who has recently promised amnesty to many previously suspended accounts — can’t adequately police the site.
“Twitter and other social media companies for years have struggled to ensure advertisements do not show up alongside hateful or otherwise objectionable content,” Faiz writes. “Twitter had made efforts to improve the advertising climate and continued to grapple with the issue even prior to Musk’s takeover.”
Oversight Board tells Facebook to revamp its moderation program for VIPs
In a report, the board criticized Facebook’s “cross check” program for being understaffed, opaque and unfair, the Wall Street Journal’s Jeff Horwitz reports.
“The board’s report doesn’t take issue with the value of a secondary review system for moderating posts from high-profile or sensitive accounts,” Horwitz writes. “But the board said the program in practice has put Meta’s business interests over the program’s stated goals of protecting public discourse, and it noted that the highest levels of protection are generally reserved for accounts that might stir up trouble for Meta’s senior leadership.”
Facebook parent Meta said it has made changes that align with the board’s recommendations, and that it already asked the board for advice on polishing the program, Horwitz reports. “The company has agreed to provide a more robust response within 90 days,” he writes.
Microsoft executives expected to meet with FTC commissioners
Microsoft President Brad Smith and other executives are expected to attend a meeting today with Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and other commissioners, Bloomberg News’s Leah Nylen reports. The meetings, first reported by the New York Post, come as the FTC barrels toward making a decision on whether to block Microsoft’s proposed $69 billion deal to buy gaming giant Activision Blizzard.
This week, Smith previewed Microsoft’s arguments in an op-ed on the deal. Sony has argued that the deal would give video game developers and consumers less choice by making major gaming franchises potentially exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox platform. In his op-ed, Smith argued that making games exclusive like that would be “economically irrational,” writing that such a move would be “disastrous” in “alienating millions of gamers.”
A Microsoft spokesperson and FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar declined to comment to Bloomberg News.
Inside the industry
- U.S. and European officials speak at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab 360/StratCom forum today.