Senator Josh Hawley Torches Apple and TikTok at Tech Hearing

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Too scared to show their faces? Apple and TikTok chose not to appear at a congressional hearing where political leaders took them to task.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, hosted a hearing titled “How Corporations and Big Tech Leave Our Data Exposed to Criminals, China, and Other Bad Actors.” on November 5.

Both TikTok and Apple — the former of which allegedly has ties to the Chinese government itself, and the latter, a software company that has both manufacturing and a major market in China — declined to show up. Hawley threw down the gauntlet the previous day on Twitter by writing, “come and testify tomorrow about your ties to Communist Chinese Party. I'll save a place for you.”

As predicted, representatives from TikTok and Apple declined to appear for questioning, and. Hawley blasted them in his opening statement, saying the following:

A company compromised by the Chinese communist party knows where your children are, knows what they look like, what their voices sound like, what they’re watching and what they share with each other. TikTok claims they don’t store American user data in China. That’s nice, but all it takes is one knock on the door of their parent company, based in China, from a communist party official for that data to be transferred to the Chinese government’s hands whenever they need it.

TikTok denied these claims in a letter that Hawley read:

No governments foreign or domestic direct how we moderate tik-tok content. TikTok 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.

But Hawley, as seen in this short clip, had done his homework. He rebutted, “But that's not what former employees of TikTok say. Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that TikTok’s Chinese parent company imposed strict rules on what could appear on the app in keeping with China’s restrictive view of acceptable speech. Former employees said company officials based in Beijing had the final call on whether flagged videos were approved. The former employees said their attempt to persuade chinese teams not to block were penalized. Certain videos were routinely ignored out of caution about the Chinese government's restrictions.”

One former ByteDance manager claimed, according to The Washington Post, “They want to be a global company, and numbers-wise, they’ve had that success,” read Hawley. “But the purse is still in China: The money always comes from there, and the decisions all come from there.”

He then pivoted to take shots at Apple, citing that “we’re accustomed” to hearing about Apple merely as a “good corporate citizen” because it “encrypts its messages, it limits its own data collection from users and gives them privacy controls.”

However, this veneer of fair play is apparently only skin deep, as Hawley observed, “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.”

He specifically noted how “Apple’s investments in Chinese production have helped build the scientific and manufacturing capacity of America’s greatest geopolitical rival, but Chinese demand is even more critical to Apple’s future. And to service that demand, Apple is risking compromise with authoritarianism.” Hawley gave a damning example, explaining how “The company hosts its Chinese users’ iCloud data in China as part of a joint venture with a Chinese government-controlled entity GCBD.”

He added, “If you’re a Uighur or a Chinese dissident or a protester in Hong Kong, Apple’s corporate values won't do much to protect you.” He then addressed how “In the midst of the Hong Kong democracy protests now in their twenty-second week, Apple pulled an app from its store that helped protestors and citizens stay safe during violent police crackdowns. Why? Because Beijing pushed for it.”

He continued, “If you’re an American user of an iOS you can’t be confident that the Chinese government isn’t reverse engineering the platform through their privileged access to it via their joint venture with Apple.”

He concluded his opening statement blasting the two absent corporations, “With Apple and TikTok, we see 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. That's one of the most important subjects we can discuss at today’s hearing. How does the tech industry’s entanglement with China imperil our data security?”

Hawley later commented via his Twitter, “.@Apple & @tiktok_us were no shows today. And no wonder: both companies endangering American consumers’ privacy & security.”

He went on to write, “@tiktok_us despite claims of being independent, witnesses testified today that they are effectively controlled by Beijing. And @washingtonpost reports today directly contradict @tiktok_us representations to the committee.” He then declared the time has come “for @tiktok_us to testify UNDER OATH.”

Hawley finished his post-hearing Twitter thread by writing, “.@Apple storing immense amounts of data AND encryption keys in China. FBI Director Wray just told me this is major security concern - gives Beijing backdoor access to Americans’ communications w Chinese family, friends, or business associates.”

Twitter Washington Post Censorship Project

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