U.S. China Tech Competition | Apps, Platforms, and Surveillance
Good morning, everyone. It's great to see you all and welcome to the Miller Center's 2023 William and Carol Stevenson conference. We hold this event every other year focusing on the most important national and international issues of our time and a huge thanks to the Stevenson family for endowing it and for the support they have shown to the Miller center over the years. 11 years ago, my wife and two daughters and I arrived in Beijing for three months of research. Before leaving, Brookings had equipped me with a brand new laptop, and cell phone burners as they're known, and many of you who have traveled have had them. At the time, Brookings was deeply concerned about a hack of our computer system where much of our data had been exfiltrated by a foreign agent. Shortly after we arrived, we moved into our Beijing apartment and a technician from the apartment complex knocked on our door to fix a mirror in our bathroom that didn't appear to be broken. He would return every few days to keep fixing the mirror. Not feeling that we had anything to hide my wife and daughters, and I enjoyed laughing and speculating our daughters were 10 and eight at the time, speculating about what this technician was up to. But I didn't start to wonder from time to time, should I say were right, all of my reactions to the particular meetings that I was having. If I was interviewing a person, would I be putting them at risk? Was I putting my Chinese national assistant at risk who came to the apartment on a regular basis. So 11 years later, all four of us carry one of these. It has a camera, and a microphone. And apps that may be recording anything and everything that we do and say and sharing it with us technology giants, as well as perhaps with Chinese authorities. So when when Koch is proposed the Stevenson conference and that it beyond the US China technology competition, following up on her own grade scholarship in this regard, it seemed important, exciting and prescient and is the ckn professor here at the Miller center and director of the University of Virginia's East Asia center, and also an associate professor of Media Studies at UVA. She's also a fellow in the public intellectuals program at the National Committee on US China relations. What I had not realized that when she would not only plan this agenda so well that she would time it perfectly to be the day after Secretary Yellen gave a major Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen gave a major speech on US China competition. Yesterday, Secretary Yellen started with the monumental challenges facing the world, recovering from a pandemic, the biggest European land war since World War Two potential military conflicts in Asia and economic stress at home and abroad. And she said yesterday, progress on these issues requires constructive engagement between the world's two largest economies. Yet our relationship clearly is at a tense moment. It's quite an understatement with a major war in Europe, and fears of one in Asia rising. It was little surprise that national security topped the list. How does China's military use technology what technologies might be supplying to Russia in their No Limits partnership that would aid Russia is horrendous invasion of Ukraine. These are major security challenges. Secretary Yellen also warned against an overreaction. Unlike the first Cold War levels of trade and integration between the United States and China are exceptionally deep and strong. Still, China's us is the US third largest trading partner, and China's extraordinary quarter century of economic growth has been fueled by that integration. And as Secretary Yellen said, decoupling would be disastrous for both countries and for the world. Moreover, it might make China more likely to do something dangerous militarily in East Asia. I suspect others today will want to talk about Secretary Yellen’s speech, is it possible to establish an equilibrium that would include fair rules of the road for competition? Is it possible to work on common challenges, such as the big debt issues faced by many developing countries, and the fight against climate change? Beyond that, at the center of these questions is a topic that anne kokus has built this conference around democracy. This competition was taking place at a time when our own democracy faces enormous pressures to sustain itself. The way that US China competition and cooperation particularly in technology will shape democracy here at home is essential to this conversation as well. In other words, has democracy met its match is China's growing economic power combined with technologies we've helped them develop creating An alternative model to liberal democracies around the world. Our liberal democracies committed enough internally and amongst themselves to maintaining core principles of intellectual property, freedom of expression, protection of individual privacy and human rights. Indeed, are the US and other corporations from the leading or, or, or leading corporations from the US and other leading democracies, themselves chipping away at essential elements of our democracy. These questions will be woven through our three panels today, the first focus is on apps, platforms, and surveillance. The second highlights China's role in the global business and financial sectors. And the third hones in on how US competition may play out with respect to new climate technologies. At a time when the US has just made its greatest investment ever in clean energy technology. Our first panel was informed by pressing current events states across the country have become have begun restricting the use of Tik Tok and other Chinese apps due to fears regarding data privacy. With Montana banning the app entirely last week, federal regulators have cracked down on tik tok’s parent company bytedance to give up control of US operations or sell the platform completely, especially in light of the recent national security document leaks. And the Chinese spy balloons. It is important to examine how social media intersects with national security and democracy interests with regards to China. Fortunately, we have three excellent panelists with us today. To discuss these issues. Josh chin is Deputy China bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Josh and the co author of surveillance state inside China's quest to launch a new era of social control. He previously won the Gerald Loeb award for international reporting for a series exponents exposing China's government's pioneering experiments with digital surveillance. Kara Frederick behind me is the director of the tech Policy Center at the Heritage Foundation. Before that she worked as a fellow at the Center for New American Security and led Facebook's global security counterterrorism Analysis Program. More importantly than her impressive career, Kara graduated from UVA in 2007. So it's always great to have a wahoo back home. And finally, shanta caohill founder and principal at MDO advisors with an expertise in national security issues in the information age. She previously served as Deputy Assistant to the President and coordinator for democracy and human rights at the National Security Council. She was also previously the Senior Director for the international forum for democratic studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. And this mock conversation will be moderated by anne cocus. So without further ado, and over to you.
Thank you so much bill. And I'd like to thank our three esteemed panelists from whom I have learned so much over the years and studying this area. So it's a great honor and privilege to be here with you. I'd also like to welcome our in person and online guests to the Miller center. And to give a special welcome to my students in the University of Virginia engagements course the data ethics of Tiktok, many of whom are coming to the Miller center for the first time. So just to begin, in yesterday's speech on the economic relationship with China at Johns Hopkins University, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argued that the US quote unquote, will assert ourselves when our vital interests are at stake. But we do not seek to quote unquote, decouple from our interests from our economy from China's what are the key areas that you observe in your work, where this tension between vital interests in economic engagement are the most delicate in the tech sector? Secretary Yellen, for example, highlighted China's export of surveillance equipment, as well as forced technology transfer from foreign to domestic firms. And I was wondering if there were other areas that you might highlight or other areas where you see this issue as particularly intention. shantytowns start?
Sure. Well, first of all, thank you so much, Anne and thank you so much to the Miller Center for hosting this wonderful event. I have also learned a tremendous amount from the panelists here from the books that you put out, I highly recommend them. And actually, some of the points that you've made in your publications have really informed my thinking on these issues. So to the point about balancing these issues, I mean, I think that's always been present in, in US foreign policy. But of course, it's come to a particular focal point now. I actually had been thinking about a term that more accurately in my view represents some of the dynamics involved. Because I think when we talk about decoupling, it sounds almost unrealistic in an age where our economies are so deeply entwined and intermeshed. You know, the Europeans have been using a term de risking and when I think about the types of concerns broadly, that we're going to be talking about today. I do think about risk, for instance, risk to national security, risk to democracy and human rights, risks to personal security. A lot of different ways that you can quantify that risk. And so when thinking about the types of risks involved, I just wanted to make a few points about some of the topics of this panel and relate it to something that Bill mentioned at the beginning, which is about democracy. And so the first, the first point is that, you know, I think for many years, we saw technology as a tool that could either amplify or consolidate democracy, or perhaps pose dangers, through its usage. Increasingly, I've come to believe that technology is actually the site where the future of democracy and rights is going to be determined that they're actually inextricable now. And actually, some of the stories that Josh has mentioned in his recent book, drive that home really well, you know, you have an anecdote about a Uighur family and their experiences in China, we're really trying to untangle those issues is is impossible. So that's kind of the first point which is that I think we need to stop seeing those those issues in isolation, we have to accept that if we are talking about democratic processes, we must think about technology. The second is actually something that you brought up in your own book, and which is about the different ways in which data can be trafficked around the world, and you particularly focus on China. I think that obviously, we will probably talk about tik tok today, this is, you know, a big issue. But I would really encourage folks to widen that aperture a little bit and think about the many other ways in which data can be exfiltrated and traffic and used in different ways, especially in ways that I think are detrimental to democracy and human rights. And there are we can get into more detail later. But you have mentioned in your own work, issues around the health sector, around gaming around phenomena like smart cities, where I think some of the some of the nuances around data and the ways that can be used have been lost when we talk about these issues. And then the final thing I'll just say very briefly is I would love it if we could then extrapolate from our knowledge of what we know now to the near future. And as we all know, we've seen tremendous advances in artificial intelligence just within the last few months, which I think are going to be something of game changer. And when we talk about the ways in which we interact with information, the ways in which we interact with data, I think we have not been creative enough and thinking about the different ways in which, for example, generative AI, or different kinds of, you know, virtual or augmented reality, the kinds of things that we see coming just over the horizon could be used in any number of ways that I think will be equally, if not more worrisome, than some of the things we're talking about today. Thank you, Josh.
Yeah, you know, I mean, it's, that's a tough act to follow. Basically, what she's what she said, maybe I can, maybe I can advance this a little bit by just getting little bit more specific, I think it's, it's really fascinating to think about decoupling and the tensions involved in that or de risking, as it were, for the US in the areas that I cover, which, you know, is surveillance and AI. You know, that is actually one area where the US has really made a pretty clear decision, particularly when it comes to chips. And the US dominant dominance of the semiconductor industry. You know, I was actually quite surprised at how decisive the US was on this. When I first started covering this, this field, it just seemed that there was nothing anyone could do. Because, you know, huge American tech companies had a major interest in selling chips to China, they have massive business. Intel's the obvious one, there's another one named Nvidia is based in California that makes what are called Graph graphics processing units were originally developed for video games, but turned out to be really, really good for AI and are now the gold standard for AI. And in fact, there's an entire Nvidia ecosystem that most companies that do serious AI work kind of have to use, if they want to be cutting edge. And they they were doing huge amounts of business in China. And it always felt like there was no way for the US government. You know, whatever its concerns were about us providing these technologies to Chinese surveillance firms or to the Chinese military, that there is no way they're going to overcome the objections of industry against cutting that out. And they did. So it's interesting. I mean, it was a very interesting choice that they made. And they've continued to put pressure and on companies and cut off Chinese access to that technology. There are loopholes China has figured out ways to get around that but but they have it has really affected China's ability to do that sort of work. So I think that's interesting. And in that sense that the, that the US really has made a decision, at least in that one core area. But I mean, zooming out a little bit. I mean, she did mention exports of surveillance. And I think this is actually one of these areas that this is probably touches on what I think is the most interesting, or one of those interesting tensions, when you talk about the role that technology plays in the future of democracy. And I totally agree with with Shanti. I don't I think they're indivisible. Now they are, basically, technology is where this is where the future of democracy is going to play out. And, you know, when I was working on my book, one of the places I went to, when looking at China's exports of surveillance equipment was Uganda, which is a really fascinating test case, because it is a country that gets a huge amount of aid from the US has and is, and has been supported by the US was held up to one point as a potential sort of democratic model for the future of, of Sub Saharan Africa, it senses become a much more authoritarian place, China and has become a place where China, the US are now wrestling for for influence. And the story that I will share the report with with colleagues was in 2018, and 2019, you're in the seventh either the leader of Uganda was facing a huge political challenge from from a sort of upstart young singer who was who was had sort of rally the youth in opposition to him. And he, his solution was to go to the Chinese Embassy. And, and ask for help. And the Chinese Embassy worked with Huawei, which has a huge presence there. They, they took a bunch of Ugandan police to on a trip to China took them to the Ministry of Public Security Officers off of Tiananmen Square showed them how it all worked. And and then and then basically sold the seven year sort of starter kit, the state surveillance starter kit, which he then did use in the most recent election, I think, probably to great effect. I mean, he did win it, there are people and people who doubt the results. But but you know, he is basically used that system to really to really neutralize a major threat to to his power and sort of crush democracy, at least for now in Uganda. And I think, you know, what that story illustrated to me is the is the power of China's China's appeal to countries that are sort of on the verge of on the on the sort of verge of kind of teetering one way towards either democracy or authoritarianism. China comes with these systems, I don't think it's trying to necessarily replicate the China model everywhere, but it is offering the systems and ideas about how to use these technologies to anyone who will buy them. And uh, basically, it's a sort of laissez faire attitude that says, you know, here you go, we don't care how you use it, just kind of use it. And what we'll teach you if you if What if what you want to do is is, is is repress your political enemies, we'll teach you how to do that. And, and that's an enormously attractive to a large number of countries. And I think what the US has not done, the US have talked about trying to restrict, I mean, they've obviously ran a campaign against Huawei that has been very successful in terms of keeping Huawei’s 5g technology out of out of allied countries, but the US has not really developed an alternative model that can compete with China's they have, there's no vision, there's no democratic vision coming out of us about the uses of these technologies, how you can use them, how you can extract the positive use of these technologies while mitigating against the negative ones. I think that's the real, that's one of the real challenges US faces right now.
I'm a little insulted because I wrote a whole paper called democracy by design that attempted to have that affirmative vision. And I guess Josh didn't read it, but you guys do? So no, I do think I can build upon what champion and Josh's has said, so tell me in a few minutes, if it works, it might not. But what I think in terms of the the delicate things that we're not thinking about that that are, you know, integrated, that we don't really know. I'm looking at the information environment. I think that that's I used to work in the intelligence community for the United States and then Facebook after that, and what what stood out to me when I went to Silicon Valley from working in DC in the government was you know, you had people from the diaspora you had Chinese Americans, and even at the time, people on h1 B visas, who were working as programmers at Facebook, we didn't necessarily have that geopolitical cognition like oh, there's a history of force tech transfer of IP theft and you're just kind of you know, working with the the guy with the visa next to you and he happens to be from China. But with Confucius Institutes and united front work and everything like that, I think what Jen easterly had called that she caught a lot of flack for this, but the cognitive landscape I think, is extremely important. So Josh talked a lot about you know, the these surveillance packages and all of the the hard cyber concerns the data collection mechanisms. Shanti alluded to that that as well. But when you look at something like tik tok, again, Ashanti mentioned it, I'll use tick tock as a synectoche for sort of the next tick tock all of these digital platforms, which are have, you know, maybe parent companies headquartered in Beijing subject to the PRC laws and policies. And and I'll say that there is a way to manipulate the information environment through these digital platforms that, you know, we hadn't thought about for a long time, you had great reporting from Forbes and Buzzfeed rip, some of those, you know, journalists have basically revealed that there are actual narrative pushes going on on these platforms, there are, you know, censorship initiatives, you know, people will say, okay, you can still access some of the news about the atrocities in Xinjiang. But we know at least from course, reporting in by February 2019, a lot of this reporting was censored Hong Kong protests, same thing, a mentions of Tiananmen Square, or Tibet, those kinds of things were censored. And then there are, you know, on the alternative angle, they're trying to push, CCP propaganda, effectively, top buzz, was laundering a lot of those stories through through that app. Again, Forbes, and Buzzfeed reporting revealed some of that, and whistleblowers as well, when it comes to tik tok. So I think it's sort of important to when you think about sort of the next generation of citizens, there's a lot of young people in this room right now. And we know that that Google is running scared when it comes to how people get their news, you know, American adults over in the last few years, the American adults who get their news from tik tok has tripled. So what does that mean for the information environment? When, as director Christopher Ray said, this algorithm actually is for he said, verbatim controlled by China. And we know that when you know, project, Texas was sort of floated as the thing that will mollify a lot of the US national security concerns China of a few years ago, even before project Texas was just in its infancy, they they basically said, we're not going to give up the algorithm and the Institute has some export controls, which will likely cover the algorithm as well. So when you know, there's a commercial aspect to that, but then there's also that information, cognitive security aspect to if you know, what is being pumped into the brains of our children. 67% of American names are on tik tok, as of last year matters, too. So I think there's sort of a something that we don't see it's a little more squishy, but in terms of decoupling, do we want to cede the information environment totally to something that is CCP owning control? I would say no.
Okay, so So Kara, actually, I was trying to start off with a soft like non tic tak. But but you know, because once once it once we let it out of the once we let it out of the box, we can put it back at no but but this is but but I think this is really a question on on a lot of people's minds there. You know, we have the recent congressional testimony. And this actually Kara's point brought up another question that I wanted to ask you, especially since we are at a university campus. So when we see these when we see these discussions about data, privacy and security in government, by targeting an app that is uniquely popular, so Carol brought up the cognitive environment, the you know, the experience of, of sharing information on on social media apps, and what that might, what that might do in terms of how we understand our world. But by targeting an app that is uniquely popular with millennials, and Gen Z has the US government, in some ways already failed to convince younger generations by presenting this as a conflict between youthful influencers and the political gerontocracy Will young people simply dismiss well placed concerns about about surveillance and authoritarian linked platforms in the future because of these generational differences in our understanding and use of technology. And I'd be really curious to see, you know, each of you who have worked in this area in different in different ways, and I'm curious about your perspectives on this. So as Kara posed these risks, how how does the, you know, the does the regulatory landscape in the US contend with these generational differences? Yeah, and
I think, you know, Chatham House rules and other conversations that I've had but I was I was talking with a handful of representatives of Congress members yesterday and it appeared that um, you know, they are, they are very much aware of what you just identified the fact that Oh, no Like, what can we do when you have the Commerce Secretary? Everyone's probably familiar with the Restrict act right now. And that was sort of the bipartisan give us. Oh, yeah, sorry. I just drove in from DC, DC brain, guys. So you'll have to, you'll have to stop me. But um, the Restrict Act was, is a piece of draft legislation, it has at least a dozen bipartisan co sponsors. And what it seeks to do is develop a risk based framework for contending with these digital platforms that emanate from our foreign adversaries. And, you know, there's been I work at the Heritage Foundation, where conservative institution, there's been concerns on the right about the erosion of trust and institutions of US institutions, given surveillance mechanisms sort of turned inward on our citizens. But on the left, you have the Secretary of Commerce, which this restrict Act would, you know, give her authority to make these determinations about the risks of these foreign owned platforms? You have the the Commerce Secretary effectively saying, if we ban Tiktok, then I'm afraid we're gonna lose every voter under the age of 35. So everyone is sort of aware that this is a problem in terms of tik tok having a target on his back when you know, tick tock influencers are traipsing around the White House, when there are discussions of potentially creating a an pressroom for these tik tok and social media influencers to so so I think it is a problem. I think it is a problem that, you know, nobody likes to appear out of touch. But there are very real concerns with these platforms. And again, not just tik tok but the next tik tok, you have a lemonade, which is a I don't know, I don't know if the kids in the room know what this is. But it's basically as if other people have said as if Instagram and Pinterest have a baby. Another it's headquartered in its parent company is headquartered in China as well. So sort of the same sort of data collection issues 2017 National Intelligence law issues with these companies as well. So I don't want to say the well has been poisoned by these tensions. But but it is troubling when the negotiation between you know convenience and privacy or fun and privacy is something that I do think the younger demographic has a different view of and really the only way to contend with that is to be as clear as possible, frankly, to the parents. I'm a new mom, you might have seen my baby, my sister took her out in the back. But I'm very worried about, you know, the potential for building the dossiers, like we used to do in the intelligence community based off of integrating a lot of these data streams, you know, seemingly disparate datasets that China can take its hacked materials from the OPM hack, the Equifax hack, the anthem hack, the Marriott hack, and sort of integrate these these datasets together with artificial intelligence, who's special, which, you know, the speciality of AI is it parses through large amounts of data, and it pulls out inside it is able to detect anomalies, identify patterns, um, what does that look like, in a place when you're looking at dissidents, then it helps identify people who are, you know, sort of the wiggers in the world. So I think that we need to appeal directly to parents for the next generation coming up. But it is going to be an uphill battle, given the fact that this platform is embedded in America now.
So I want to so Josh actually had brought up a really interesting Tiktok related point, and I want to make sure to give you a chance to, to address this as the as the journalist in the room. So how might we contend with the privacy versus free speech aspects of the TIC tok issue more generally, how might we think about balancing privacy, free speech and national security and the US China tech trade? So you both are journalists, and you've written about state surveillance, so I can imagine your perspective on this is, is quite complex.
Yeah, just to lay my cards out on the table. As a journalist, and a journalist working in China, I do have a sort of, I get a little twitchy when when people start talking about banning sources of information. You know, I mean, the Wall Street Journal has, we actually had a really, really successful Chinese language website for years when I first joined, and it was it was actually quite amazing to to see, you know, just as to be to be writing for that or having my, my stories translated for that website and be able to interact with Chinese people who can access it. Just see, you know, by reporting not just be consumed by American readers, but Chinese readers as well. And and it got banned. Actually, it was around, I think, the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square when we started digging up our old stories from back then and publishing them on the blog that I ran and then translating them into Chinese. The government didn't like that very much. So they banned the whole website and it's still banned and the website of the Chinese website and you Your times and English websites, New York Times The Washington Post everyone is is banned now. And, you know, the Chinese argument is that, that our websites are agents of are, are vectors for foreign influence. Right. And so, you know, I, you know, I obviously disagree with that. And so I am yeah, I'm a little bit. I feel like it's a difficult tension that we have to wrestle with when you think about, you know, if you care about free speech, when you're when you're thinking about tick tock. And, you know, I think but I do think there's an opportunity here. And us, we talked to mentioned earlier that, that the US hasn't really put forth a model on how to deal with surveillance of the collection of data and these sorts of technologies. And, you know, one of the one of the most amazing things about the US is that we do not have federal data privacy legislation, right. Actually, I'm probably not the most qualified person to speak about this, because I write about China, not the US. But it is remarkable, you know, when I was looking around, writing about state surveillance, looking, you know, China has actually quite robust data privacy protections, they have a huge carve out for the government that is problematic. But otherwise, it's quite, it's quite strong. Obviously, Europe has very strong regulations, the UK. The reason the US doesn't, I mean, there are a lot of reasons, obviously, one of them is, is the influence of Silicon Valley, tech giants, they have, you know, they have a huge interest in being able to access as much data as possible that better their entire business model is built on that and they have lobbied quite hard against this bill. But it is interesting, when you think about tik tok and you think about trying to convince persuade younger people, that you're not just taking away their favorite social media platform for no reason with a ban. You know, an alternative approach to this is to use tik tok as a way to help propel privacy legislation. If you care about data, and you care about tech companies exploiting data, whether they're Chinese American, Russian, or whatever, you know, privacy legislation will go a long way, or at least as as a first step to sort of mitigating that. And it's, and that's, you know, that's something that is, you know, as you know, if you apply it across the board, it's consistent, right, and it's an argument you can make, and it was, you know, the CEO of tik tok, when he was testing was testifying before Congress, he was making this point, I don't think anyone was, or very few people were listening. But he kept saying, you know, nothing that we do, in terms of data collection is different than anyone else in Silicon Valley. And there may be you may be able to argue with that around the margins. But it's but it's a bit but the amount of data that that Silicon Valley tech giants collect is astonishing. Right. And so it is, you know, what is what is China doing with it? What is Tiktok doing with it? That's a whole other question. But but, you know, I think the main issue is you're talking about how do you risk How do you restrict, tik tok, if you're concerned about tik tok from collecting that information in the first place. And I think, you know, actually having privacy legislation is probably is a solution that will, that will sort of get you out of having to face down your angry teenager.
One point on that, because I do agree with and sorry for Shanthi, if you want to jump in, but I do agree with that aspect of Josh's argument wholeheartedly. Again, in my paper, tik tok, a CCP official in every pocket out now. We talk about how there are you there are ways for tik tok to get us user data, apart from banning the digital platform from operating in the US market. So that is a massive point, Americans should clearly understand how their data is stored, collected and shared. And it tik tok can get the data because of these mechanisms because of these SDKs software development kits and the way that data is shared and used, especially with third parties to so I think that is a fantastic point. And that would help sort of shore up these security issues as well. Yeah.
So So come to the Miller center, we can have bipartisan agreement on important issues. So shanti the up I wanted to so one of the things that we've discussed in our in our conversations is that it's not when we see tick tock, there are other Chinese tech platforms operating in the US. How do these risks differ or not from us based apps? And and more importantly, do you think that current debates focus on the right risks? Or are there other ways that you might reframe these issues? So for example, are there features of the of the US political system that have led to focusing on specific single apps or specific companies, rather than, you know, these kind of larger data privacy issues? And as someone who you know, is who worked in the administration? How, how did how did you and your team to the degree that you can share kind of balance these challenges of actually being able to like move something forward versus kind of coming up with these larger, larger conceptual questions?
Yeah, That's a that's a big question. And you know, the way that I, first of all, I think that was a great discussion that we just had. And I agree that it is hard to walk things back and to try to introduce new attitudes towards privacy, for instance. And to get to your question, I do think it goes beyond just whatever app we're obsessed about at the moment, you know, Kara, you brought up laminate, which is I understand, you know, becoming more popular, it's based on a Chinese showhome true and Little Red Book. And it's, are we just going to keep trying to ban all the apps, while at the same time, there are so many other places that just as important data, perhaps more important data can be gathered in your own book. And again, you talk about the health sector, and the ways in which so many kinds of health data is now collected by apps, that's not protected by HIPAA. And I think very few people are aware of that when you get on an app and you say, Well, I'm going to track my sleep, or my breathing or whatever, you're giving up so many pieces of your biometric information without even realizing it. And it's one of those ways in which I don't know if comprehensive privacy data protection would, would completely help. But certainly, it's a layer that we would absolutely need to have to start getting at some of these wider issues. Another I'm not kidding when I said I really have been inspired by your books, both of you, but one chapter you have in your book anne is on gaming. And you talk about tick tock being sensitive, you want to take games away from the youth. Good luck. However, the fascinating thing that I think not many people are aware of is the Tencent, which is, you know, one of the big Chinese companies. And Josh, you may address this in your book as well. It is a huge player in the gaming industry. Yeah, we it is completely not being looked at. I think part of the reason is, in our own policy debates in these in this country, it is hard pressed to do more than one thing at once and to look at more than one thing at once. And so it's easier to kind of pick out one thing, and then let's just go full bore on that. That's not to say there aren't legitimate concerns with tik tok, for instance. But when you look at this broader landscape, you know, gaming, as you point out, also, is a site of tremendous data generation potential data trafficking, patterns of behavior, patterns of social networking, financial transactions, so many different things are bound up in the in that platform. So that's all to say, I think we need to be more aware of the various types of ways as opposed to focusing on a single app or issue. Let's look at the broader landscape and try to better educate ourselves about these issues. And then just, you know, to talk about how to get at some of these issues, I will say, you know, when I was in government, obviously couldn't look at the full, you know, my team was focused on a set of specific things. One thing that we tried to do through the summit for democracy, the first one in which I understand, you know, I followed some of the outcomes of the second is to use that as a way to advance some of the more proactive thinking about technology that you mentioned, Josh, and I think carrie forward to some of, you know, how do we actually both try to clamp down on the bad stuff, and then push forward some of like, make sure that we're showing up in ways that show that technology can actually enhance democracy as opposed to, you know, be used as a tool to restrict human rights. One initiative, again, this is something that I'm a private citizen now. So I was just watching this latest summit and some of the things that came out of it. But there is an initiative to try to work on curbing the export of spyware, commercial spyware, which I think is really important, especially if you track the ways in which authoritarian regimes clamped down and actually use commercial spyware to repress dissidents around the world. So that's in instances of transnational repression, where, for instance, you know, wiggers, that may have fled to other places would still be tracked by the Chinese government, because, you know, they could be subject to this kind of spyware. So one of the ways where I think trying to make different pieces of this puzzle work, at least focusing on a couple of these discrete initiatives, I think can help make a difference, and particularly when it comes to really important issues like transnational repression, you know, this commercial spyware piece could actually be quite significant.
Thank you, Josh, or Kara, is there anything you'd like to add?
Yeah, I think it's all those points are impressive and right. I, especially with when you look at sort of sensitive, personally identifiable information, alluding to health care and whatnot. You know, why not enshrine biometric data as sensitive data with a proper NIST framework and standards on so I think that is just low hanging fruit that we haven't gotten around to that can be integrated into a national data privacy protection framework that would, I think, go a long way, as you said, in sort of layering those protections for the American people. So, so yeah, there are simple, even technical fixes for this kind of thing. And the last sort of technical fix at all a talk about is I'm, I think privacy, preserving technologies, you know, whoever finds the privacy solution is not only going to be very rich, but going to do a big service for democracy, I think, across the globe. So the United States has the opportunity to really dictate the design of these products that are imbued with privacy protections. I mean, in the design phase, we talked about privacy by design a lot. And instead of having to go back and say retrofit these privacy protections, like we're trying to do now, try to if programmers, if commercial entities, maybe even nudge by the government, by Congress, representatives of the people at this point are, are pushed in the direction to imbuing those privacy protections in the design of a lot of these products that we then see throughout the world, to our friends in Japan and India and whatnot. I think that could go a long way in sort of preserving the system that we want to see a rain vise, the closed system that the CCP is propagating.
So thank you for those policy suggestions. And, and for for all of you, I I'm actually very eager, we have a terrific audience today. And the in person audience has index cards on their seats, attendees can submit those questions to Alfred Reeves, who's in the back. Alfred, do you wanna raise your hand to Okay, so you can submit your questions to Alfred reeves, attendees can also the online audience can also use the q&a function on the bottom of the screen to submit questions. So we are eager to hear audience questions. So I urge all of you to submit those questions as you're preparing them and and then I'll go with one question just to make sure our audience can get prepped to ask those questions. So now, one final question for you guys. As we're preparing for our audience questions, thinking about the future, what is a serious long term risk in the US China tech trade, particularly surrounding apps and surveillance that you think is widely overlooked? So shanti that you mentioned, health care, and games, but I was wondering if there's anything that we haven't discussed that, from your perspective is something that our audience really should know about and should pay attention to moving forward and looking to the future?
And if you want to repeat a previous answer, you guys have been great. So okay, well, let me take a quick stab at that. And it kind of relates to what I mentioned in my initial comment, which is, I think, now more than ever, we have to be particularly attuned to the ways in which new advances and technology can be utilized, particularly by authoritarian competitors to try to target US society or US national security. I, I can't articulate for you all the various usages. But for instance, several years ago, before, when I was in my job at the International Forum for democratic studies, you know, we talked to a number of forward leaning thinkers and people who were studying kind of the future of disinformation. And I feel like just in that short span of time since those few years, three or four years ago when we had those conversations, too now, we're starting to see those things happen. And we weren't well prepared then. And we still are not well prepared. Recently, as you may have followed, you know, the Justice Department returned indictments on several Chinese nationals who are associated with the Ministry of Public Security, I think several of which were accused of operating a troll farm, which mimic these classic Kremlin techniques of trying to spread disinformation to divide confuse the American public. Those are all kind of tried and tested techniques. It's interesting that now we see the PRC trying to go to that Kremlin playbook. But what's more worrying to me as the ways in which new, you know, again, artificial intelligence and other ways to generate natural seeming content, images, imitating voices you I don't know, if you're following this whole thing with its Drake and the weekend. I can't believe I'm trying to say this publicly without listening. That's just one example. Right? I mean, they had this the song come out that didn't come from them. But imagine just use your imagination to think about the ways in which these types of technologies can be used to generate very genuine seeming disinformation and we don't have to use a term that uses sort of the cognitive defenses in place to guard against that. So that's just kind of putting on sort of just a lens. It's just a little bit out in the future. And I think we need to get much smarter about that.
Yeah, it's it's I mean, I'm On one hand, this is it's quite fascinating because we have to think about it's there's a little bit of a sci fi aspect where we try to think about, like what future technologies will be developed? And how will we adopt them? And how will we use them. But by the same token, needing to think about the, you know, the ways in which that impacts democracy and our systems of governance becomes also really important. Josh, or Cara, is there anything you'd like to add there?
Oh, one one minor add on to what Chanti said, I think, you know, the interesting thing about Chinese disinformation efforts of it, and the Department of Justice indictments, and just all of the reporting about this, is I think about this a lot as a reporter, because when you think about stories, you're going to cover you think about what is the impact of what is happening? And one of the really interesting things about disinformation Chinese disinformation, is that it's actually not very good. Yeah. Right. Like, it's, it's like, it just, they don't get a lot of traction on Twitter. They don't, you know, they haven't really had nearly the impact that Russia has had in various places. And, and I think part of that, actually, is because at least one theory I've come across, I think is compelling is that, you know, Russia has nominally has a democracy. And, and so, you know, Russian operators are used to dealing with sort of democratic discourse in some way, right, and having to be convincing and persuasive. And like, always China, like people in China or not, right, like the people who are sort of creating propaganda campaigns that they're trying to use to disrupt, you know, American society, or for whatever political purpose they may have, they just don't have that vocabulary. And where something like chat GPT comes in, is that it gives them a tool to be much more persuasive, right, because now they have this ability to just put in a prompt and that and whatever that prompt spits up, it's going to have access to all of the data that was fed into it. And all that data comes from the US. And so I do think I think Chanti is really prescient in bringing that up. And I do think that could be that could really change the landscape for China in that sense.
Yeah. And not only that, but and to be able to articulate it in you know, human like ways using natural language processing and whatnot, to give them another arrow in their quiver, I mean, then you can narrowly target and tailor these propaganda efforts to so you layer that on to the fact that AI helps us make determinations based off of digital behavior, you can have a digital profile a Google was doing this a long time ago, in 2016, they were categorizing users as right leaning or left leaning in order to enhance their ad targeting efforts on so if a nation state is sort of able to do that, with these new tools, it makes them scalable, it makes them efficient, and it increases the breadth of their reach, too. So I think I agree completely with this panel and think that those you know, information, the information war is only going to be enhanced by these new technologies, particularly synthetic media and generative AI.
Well, alright, so a very, very optimistic, very optimistic discussion this discussion to start your Friday morning. But, but these are really important questions, and I think impact everyone in this room in really significant ways. So one of the things we have a student question. So even if Tik Tok and if even if tik tok is banned, and lemonade and other Chinese apps are banned? Can't the Chinese government just obtain US data by buying it through data brokers? The officials worried about tik tok don't seem very worried about US companies profiting off of our personal data. So how do we contend with that?
I think the national data protection framework and within that framework, you have to be able to dare I say, as a conservative regulate the third party access to this data and how data is shared, especially with those third parties. As I said before, and the kids in the room will know Gizmodo does a lot of actually really good reporting on the fact that user us user data can be obtained by tik tok even if tik tok is banned, therefore, you need to have that backstop. And that backstop is that national data protection framework. You know, nobody more than me is very concerned about how these commercial companies use and manipulate our data, saw these kinds of things. Third hand, we're seeing the vestiges are firsthand, and we're seeing the vestiges of you know, what, you know, it's doing to our society and the minds of our children really, in in the US body politic alone. So there are a lot of legislative proposals on the horizon. Primarily, I think Senator Lee has the ad tech bill that they plan to reintroduce shortly that that basically clamps down on some of the data grabbing that these companies are doing and I think all of these things together are really good starts to enshrining American data with the protections that it deserves.
Thank you. So this is a question from Professor lunch oppa from the politics department, is there a place for reciprocity and US technology, US tech policy visa vie China? So is there is there a possibility that, you know that the US could allow companies like Tik Tok to operate if companies like Facebook or The Wall Street Journal? Alright, so this is like,
you know, reciprocity is, I think, a really fascinating question, especially when it comes to free speech issues and sort of values related industries, right. And it's particularly with with with news, and we've had this, you know, there was a debate that, that the, you know, a bunch of us news organizations, including my own had, most of their American correspondents expelled from China, including me, at the beginning of the pandemic, and, and there's an, you know, that was just the most sort of dramatic development, and it's very long running debate about reciprocity and media. Right. And, and whether or not China was allowing enough foreign reporters into the country allowing, you know, the freedom to report given the freedom that Chinese journalists enjoy in the US. And it's a really difficult debate, right? Because, you know, you just start talking about freedom of the press. That's a core American notion, right. And so do you, do you restrict Chinese journalists, the ability of Chinese journalists to work here? You know, I mean, these are not easy questions. And, you know, I do think it's sort of a non starter when you're talking about platforms, because China is just never going to ever, ever allow any American. I mean, they tried it with LinkedIn. And even that didn't work. Right. So I think that's just not going to happen. So I think reciprocity is one of those ideas that if you're, you know, thinking about it, from the US standpoint, it's just kind of hard because it requires you to consider compromising on on really core core American ideas, if you if you really want to punish China, if you want to do an eye for an eye on information, China's going to win, right, because they, they, their entire system is built on limiting information. Whereas the US system is built on on the opposite.
So speaking of the US system, another one of our great audience questions is, why is there so bit why has there been so little discussion about the fact so this this person brings up that there are a lot of investors in bytedance, that are US investment funds. But also I want to add to this and say, the, you know, the economic benefits that US companies are drawing from being able to access tik tok, the growing influencer industry. So why has the focus largely been on China's investment and China's involvement in propagating tik tok, rather than on the investment and involvement of US investment firms and US advertisers and US social media influencers? So can you can you can you expand a little bit more on that and maybe, maybe discuss what those what those challenges are in terms of dealing with US economic investment engagement within tik tok?
I think the reason why there's been so little conversation is because impugns a lot of us, you know, it it lays bare the fact that you know, we have been some of us have been getting rich off of what China is doing. And the way that I would sort of explain, or I have explained about the influencer issue is, you guys take one for the team, you know what I mean? There are other platforms, we like healthy competition in the tech space. And there are other platforms to use. Hopefully, there will be somebody who designs a better algorithm than the for you algorithm that is more salubrious, shall we say for the American youth. There's a lot of problems with this one now in terms of surfacing content, that's, you know, eating disorder, self harm, a lot of enterprising journalists have come to the termination that if you register on Tik Tok as a 13 to 14 year old you're gonna get served content and within minutes of that is very detrimental to your well being and your health in general. But putting that aside, I think influencers do at this point have a duty to, to sort of, you know, move and migrate to to other platforms. And then I think that it it's very, that gets out the you know, the general bigger question of Chinese investment in America making GDP go up and you know, what, what do we value? Do we value that pointy line going up? Or do we value the the mental health of our children or our national security or our vulnerabilities to some of these hard cyber risks? So I think that's a trade off that Americans have delayed making and they need to make and a lot of influencers a lot of us people who are, you know, padding their pockets, have to, frankly, take one for the team.
Thank you. Would anyone else like to add to that?
Only to say that I think, you know, there is a long history of US investment in the PRC surveillance state. Actually, Josh, you talk about that, and you name something that companies and I, you know, that's something I think we've always grappled with. And I think we need to be much more clear eyed about the ways in which US investment and support is has actually contributed to the development of some of these really troubling trends. So I hope there's more attention to that.
Oh, yeah, no, I mean, yeah, it is true. I mean, they've been the American investors and tech companies have been involved in, in Chinese surveillance from the very, very beginning in the late 1990s, when the internet and sort of just arrived in China. So so the US has profited, handsome leaves midwifed, the whole industry, basically, in China. And, you know, and I think it's interesting, because it was, you know, it's a mirror of the US relationship with China in general, right, is that for a long time, because particularly before China got into the WTO, which is right around, when the surveillance industry started to rise. You know, China had was granted most favored nation status every year. And it was always there was always a debate about whether China's human rights record was was good enough to merit that. And so there were the Human Rights was an actual talk, you know, it was a real subject in US China relations. And then as soon as China joined the WTO, that kind of went away, right? I mean, that people paid lip service to it. But the profits that American companies could make in China were just so enormous, that no one really talked about it. And we're now in a really fascinating moment, because human rights has reentered the conversation in a real way. And I think it's, you know, it's I'm kind of surprised, maybe I'm cynical, but But it is interesting, right? And so I think this is a moment where you knew you now actually have human rights being raised in boardrooms, in American, you know, American corporate boardrooms as a risk, which, which is, which is we've not seen for, for 20 years. And so why did you know what happxens with that? It's hard to say, but it definitely is, I think it's a it's a really interesting moment. And if you are, if you are interested in sort of trying to shine a spotlight on American business involvement in these in this industry, then this is a good moment for that.
carrie do you want to add. And I was just thinking, as Josh was talking about, when you have you know, Tim Cook, as reported by the information in 2016, signing a $275 billion with Apple to commit to its technical prowess, then, then I think you we need to scrutinize joint ventures with these companies, especially when these ostensibly private companies in China have have state links, or they're working in direct service of the technological development of the CCP. So it's, I think people need to know that and not many people do.
Well, on that note, hopefully, all of you have learned some new things from our panel. I'm so grateful for the excellent comments of our panelists, and they're sharing their wisdom with us today. I let's give them a round of applause. And thank you so much.
And I want to urge all of you to stay on we have a terrific panel coming up on China's financial investments Tech Net and for China's financial investments that will really build very well from where we ended up on this panel today. So thank you so much for your time and attention and