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An organization that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is a member of has accepted sizable donations from ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of the social media platform TikTok, which the democratic socialist recently defended from a possible nationwide ban.
Jake Denton, a technology policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, noted that Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the advisory council for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonprofit entity that received $150,000 at the end of last year from ByteDance, according to a lobbying contribution report. “What a coincidence,” Denton said on social media.
Ocasio-Cortez recently remarked on TikTok that a ban of the platform over national security and privacy concerns would be “unprecedented” and said that such a move does not “really address the core of the issue, which is the fact that major social media companies are allowed to collect troves of deeply personal data about you that you do not know about.” She added that lawmakers should instead pass a broader data privacy bill for social media firms.
“The United States is one of the only developed nations in the world that has no significant data or privacy protection laws on the books,” she remarked, asserting that regulators should “actually protect Americans from this kind of egregious data harvesting that companies can do without your significant ability to say no.”
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) has also publicly defended TikTok. He is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, while his wife, Melissa Oppenheimer, has worked with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which also received $150,000 from ByteDance.
“TikTok as a platform has created a community and a space for free speech for 150 million Americans and counting,” Bowman said last week. “It is also a place where 5 million small businesses are selling their products and services and making a living.”
Renewed scrutiny of TikTok, which former President Donald Trump considered banning at the end of his term, comes amid increasingly strained relations between the United States and China. President Joe Biden and some state officials have banned TikTok from government devices after reports indicated that ByteDance employees in China used the platform to monitor the locations of specific American users.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week about the extent to which officials in China maintain authority and influence over TikTok and ByteDance, vowing that the latter is not an “agent of China or any other country.”
“I am well aware that the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party. There have even been calls to ban us or require divestment,” the executive said. “Divestment does not address the fundamental concerns that I have heard, as a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. This is not an issue of nationality.”
When pressed by lawmakers, however, Chew failed to provide a clear answer on whether individuals associated with ByteDance helped him prepare for his testimony. He admitted that the attorneys who represent TikTok also represent ByteDance.