[Editor Charlie sez: This is an open letter from Roger McNamee, musician, venture capitalist and commentators]
DEAR VICE PRESIDENT Biden,
In this moment when a pandemic, an economic contraction, and protests against racism have combined to trigger national self-reflection, you have an opportunity to lead us forward to a better America, one that comes closer to the nation’s ideals than ever before. I am one of millions of Americans looking to you for new approaches to government and leadership. We are counting on you to reject the old ways that brought us to this point….
Imagine my disappointment last week when The New York Times reported that President Obama had suggested that you work with two members of the Silicon Valley establishment, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman. I know both men well. They are brilliant and very successful. Their money and expertise may be valuable to your campaign, but I hope you will not turn to them for policy guidance. They were architects of the culture and values that produced the problems….
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is still sneaking around in the shadows abusing the anti-democratic secret hold to stop the CASE Act from passing the U.S. Senate, the copyright small claims bill. And get this–the CASE Act is bipartisan legislation that has been in the works for years and years and has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and his own Senate Judiciary Committee!
But Senator Wyden is abusing a little known procedural trick to stop the bill from coming to a vote in the Senate so it can bring relief to independent creators in a vast number of copyright fields like photographers, authors, illustrators, songwriters and recording artists. And it’s not like his constituents want him to oppose it, they want him to pass it!
Little Ronnie doesn’t like the nasty billboards. Do you think he thinks he can stomp his little foot and tell Senator Kennedy, Senator Durban and all his other colleagues to bark at the moon? Who does this guy think he is? Do you think he thinks he can get the billboards down if he holds his breath long enough? Did he ever consider that maybe we’re just getting started bringing heat to his butt?
He’s clearly in the pocket of Big Tech and has been for a very long time. This is a man who holds up every copyright bill that comes through the Congress and he does it the same way every time.
But this time he’s beginning to think he might actually get unelected because he underestimated the number of independent creators who are going after his job.
[Editor Charlie sez: Very important to understanding why TikTok was banned by US military, was banned in India and will be banned in the US. Text is available here.]
“Let me be clear: This is not about the Chinese people, and it’s certainly not about Chinese Americans. Every year, the United States welcomes more than 100,000 Chinese students and researchers into this country. For generations, people have journeyed from China to the United States to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their families—and our society is better for their contributions. So, when I speak of the threat from China, I mean the government of China and the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”
According to CNN Business, the U.S. government is considering banning the use of Chinese social media apps like TikTok. The review is due to an abundance of caution about who gets access to the data scraping and user profiling, plus the techniques of bad actors using bots connected to social media to amplify the emotional contagion long associated with these apps and studied by companies like Facebook.
We have seen bad actors field bot armies using Twitter routinely, especially the 50¢ Wu Mao Army paid to influence public opinion of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the Google-backed fake bot army used to interfere in the European Parliament’s Copyright Directive. The press called out the fakery by Google in exposes by the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung among others.
During the Obama Administration, Professor Cass Sunstein (then Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) cautioned the government about using social media of any kind for purposes of making policy. One reason is how susceptible it is to fakery because the private companies that own these networks do more or less nothing to make them secure. As was demonstrated by the press covering the European Copyright Directive, private companies use social media manipulation to advance their commercial goals and their lobbying which has a second order effect on public policy.
Sunstein’s reasoning is well articulated in a 2010 memo where he cautioned the Obama Administration against relying on social media for making policy through techniques like casual polls:
“Because, in general, the results of online rankings, ratings, and tagging (e.g., number of votes or top rank) are not statistically generalizable, they should not be used as the basis for policy or planning.”
In a post-Cambridge Analytica world where social media platforms not only are ubiquitous but also have earned the distrust of policy-makers and voters as well as parents, Sunstein’s old admonition is especially prescient-but he could have added “easy to fake.” This would apply to the new boiler rooms of fake Twitter accounts with distorted ratios of tweets to followers, or followed accounts to likes–such as the infamous Internet Research Agency, and now it appears the same techniques are being used by TikTok.
[L]et me be clear: This is not about the Chinese people, and it’s certainly not about Chinese Americans. Every year, the United States welcomes more than 100,000 Chinese students and researchers into this country. For generations, people have journeyed from China to the United States to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their families—and our society is better for their contributions. So, when I speak of the threat from China, I mean the government of China and the Chinese Communist Party….
China is using social media platforms—the same ones Americans use to stay connected or find jobs—to identify people with access to our government’s sensitive information and then target those people to try to steal it.
If you think it’s an accident that China chose this moment to crack down on Hong Kong, then you should include Pollyanna on your summer reading list. And if you don’t think Taiwan could be next, then you wouldn’t have ordered two carrier strike groups into the South China Sea. (And you probably wouldn’t have built military bases on coral reefs, either.)
The question is will the U.S. follow India’s direction, and it looks like America is at least considering following India’s example. As Secretary of State Pompeo said recently to CNN, “people should only download the app ‘if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.’”
Mindful of the existential effect getting banned in the U.S. could have on Bytedance’s IPO aspirations for the company, TikTok of course has pushed back, because this is a problem solved by the payment of money, life changing to TikTok leadership, but chump change to the CCP:
“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement following Pompeo’s comments. “We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
Now see, that’s just not the way they want to go with this. First of all, if the CCP has the same relationship with TikTok parent Bytedance as they have with the other leading surveillance companies in China, TikTok wouldn’t need to “provide” data to the Chinese government–the CCP probably already controls it back in China. And maybe they would not be asked, but they would be ordered to turn over user data. This is called assuming facts not in evidence.
Bytedance founder Zhang Yiming has accomplished the impossible–getting a puff piece in HITS and also making the top 100 list of the Chinese Communist Party.
“Andrew Collier, managing director at Orient Capital Research, said the publication of the list, which comprises mostly founders of large firms, was indicative of Beijing’s increased focus on private firms as it seeks to boost the influence of the party in the sector.
“Xi Jinping has been very active in increasing state control through dual appointments and rotating positions between firms, which helps to lock down favoured corporate chieftains,” he said.
Given the influence of the CCP over public companies, like CCP members Jack Ma and Pony Ma, it shouldn’t be surprising that China’s President-for-Life Xi Jinping doesn’t like his public companies being audited by U.S. public accounting firms and held to the same standards as all the other public companies. You know, Sarbanes Oxley and all that jazz. So it’s virtually impossible to confirm if TikTok is telling the truth absent a good old fashioned grand jury.
In the great tradition of China’s lobbying efforts in the U.S. and now in Hong Kong, it is true that TikTok has been busily hiring highly paid Americans to deflect attention on the company’s U.S. operations. This includes Michael Beckerman (call sign “Shoe Man”), the stylish former head of the Internet Association, who still seems to be looking for a role in a Zoolander sequel.
TikTok also hired former Playboy and Disney executive Kevin Mayer as the CEO of the U.S. company. When Mr. Mayer gets his CID, there should be some interesting material there as if there is a story as Secretary Pompeo expects, it is Mr. Mayer who will have some answers. Of course, a U.S. Attorney may skip the CID and just impanel a grand jury to investigate TikTok’s crimes, if they haven’t already. Or we could be back in FISA-land for a counterintelligence investigation if TikTok tries hard enough.
As FBI Director Wray said:
We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China.And at this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.
I wonder how frequently Mr. Beckerman and Mr. Mayer change SIM cards?
We are thrilled to report that composer and big band leader Maria Schneider has sued YouTube in the prelude to a class action. It’s worth pointing out that this is the first time since the Viacom case that the creative community has taken on the Leviathan of Mountain View. It’s also worth pointing out that Google won’t be able to buy their way out of this one the way they have the others, they can’t give a job to somebody’s child, it’s just not going to go the usual way that Google thrives on corruption. The complaint is really well-written (as we would expect) and tells the all-too-familiar compelling story of the struggle of artists to deal with YouTube’s “whack-a-mole” business model (or what Chris sometimes calls the “ennui of learned helplessness”:
This case is about copyright piracy. YouTube, the largest video-sharing website in the world, is replete with videos infringing on the rights of copyright holders. YouTube has facilitated and induced this hotbed of copyright infringement through its development and implementation of a copyright enforcement system that protects only the most powerful copyright owners such as major studios and record labels.
Plaintiffs and the Class are the ordinary creators of copyrighted works. They are denied any meaningful opportunity to prevent YouTube’s public display of works that infringe their copyrights—no matter how many times their works have previously been pirated on the platform. They are thus left behind by YouTube’s copyright enforcement system and instead are provided no meaningful ability to police the extensive infringement of their copyrighted work. These limitations are deliberate and designed to maximize YouTube’s (and its parents Google’s and Alphabet’s) focused but reckless drive for user volume and advertising revenue.
Moreover, the Plaintiffs and the Class are not only prevented from using any meaningful enforcement tool, but the system in place actually exacerbates the harms caused to them including in a manner that bars Defendants from the protections of any safe harbors under applicable copyright laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”).