Michael Vail ‘24
This is Still Satire, Right? Right?
Last week, the United States Congress summoned TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to testify in an effort to remove the application from the hands of Americans. Their reasoning for the ban was allegedly fear of spyware, but it became quite clear that the generous members of Congress were sympathetic to the app’s merits, and simply believed it was poorly developed. Let’s recap the events of the hearing.
Representative Earl LeRoy “Buddy” Carter questioned Chew about the nature of TikTok’s camera functionality. “Can you say with a hundred percent certainty that TikTok does not use the phone’s camera to determine whether the content that elicits a pupil dilation should be amplified by the algorithm? Can you tell me that?”
Chew responded, “We do not collect body, face, or voice data to identify our users. We do not. The only face data that you will get, that we collect, is when you use filters to see sunglasses in your face, we need to know where your eyes are.”
Carter seemed reasonably confused by Chew’s faulty logic. “Why do you need to know where the eyes are if you’re not seeing if they’re dilated?”
Chew took a moment to reflect on this query. Then he realized, Why, indeed? I thought it was necessary to know where the eyes are to be able to place the sunglasses correctly, but I see Carter’s point. It would be a lot easier, and significantly more accurate, to simply place the sunglasses in the middle of the screen and rely on the user to line it up correctly. Why did I invest so many resources into this? These Americans are pretty smart…
Chew proceeded to talk about the app’s age gating technology, explaining that it uses “…some tools where [they] look at the public profile to go through the videos that [users] post, to see whether—”
Carter cut him off, as he was never really interested in what Chew had to say. “Well, that’s creepy! Tell me more about that.”
Don’t be surprised by Chew’s perplexed expression. It may have looked like Chew explained to Carter what it means to post a public video, the same way you would explain it to a first grader, but Chew was actually considering this point. Wait, it is definitely creepy to improve our app using public data. We shouldn’t be allowing people to post their videos publicly anymore. That’s way too creepy. I think the next logical step is to remove all public features, only allowing users to send private videos to their friends. Wait, did we just create a new private messaging app?
Carter handed over the microphone to Representative Richard Hudson, who had an urgent question about the nature of network connections. “Mr. Chew, does TikTok access the home WiFi network?”
“Only if the user turns on the WiFi. I’m sorry, I may not understand the question.”
“So if I have the TikTok app on my phone, and my phone is on my home WiFi network, does TikTok access that network?”
“You have to access the network to get connections to the Internet.”
“The Chinese Communist Party is engaged in psychological warfare, through TikTok, to deliberately influence U.S. children!” Carter cried.
Chew didn’t know how to address this comment.
Featured image courtesy of Song Chen/China Daily
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