The TikTok Affair

Here’s a general rule: when the US government claims to be concerned that some other government will do X it is because the US has been doing X for some time, and considers X to be its sole prerogative. There’s seldom any attempt to justify its prerogrative as appropriate, merely a bunch of stuff about how bad it is for anyone else to do what we do.

The US has mandated backdoors for law enforcement in all social media and communications systems (some encrypted Email services have had to shut down rather than submit to backdoors) – it is a widely-known fact that the FBI makes tens of thousands of content requests against Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc; and these content requests are, by definition, “fishing expeditions” because there are not tens of thousands of counter-terror cases opened every year. In fact, the FBI still seems to be remarkably ineffective against secret Facebook groups where sociopathic white supremacists and police officers hang out, together. They get tens of thousands of users’ content, browsing history, messages, and contact groups – and they can’t seem to figure out whether the boogaloo bois are a problem or that Antifa does not have a master organizational structure. The US has (not, apparently) mandated backdoors in the cellular networks, because they were able to get companies like Harris to exploit flaws in the protocols so they can build boxes that perform man-in-the-middle attacks against communications in an entire downtown area, collecting web query traces, SMS messages, billing information, geolocation, and possibly more. And, of course, there is all of the backdoor’d software [verge] and backdoor’d device BIOs. There are indications that the NSA or FBI have had a hand in certain protocols continuing to have flaws across versions.

Probably the most notable example of a flaw that continues across versions is in 5G. Older cellular systems expose the device’s IMSI (international mobile subscriber identity) during its hand-off and connection to a tower; that’s how “IMSI catchers” work: they man-in-the-middle the connection to the actual cell service provider and record the IMSI as well as ferreting data out of the stream. [IMSI catchers are also useful for making cell phones all stop working during a protest] You might be forgiven if you expected that man-in-the-middle flaws would be fixed in 5G but 5G just rearranges a few things and the IMSI catchers will still work just fine [wired] If you think that’s a great big co-incidence, or an oversight by the system designers, I have a golf course in Scotland for sale, cheap.

Then, on top of that, the US government has upheld the click-wrap licenses of many social media companies that allows them to sell limited amounts (i.e.: everything) of your private data to advertisers, marketers, or political hacks. Think: Cambridge Analytica. The scandal, there, is not that Cambridge Analytica misbehaved with everyone’s Facebook contact lists, it’s that Facebook’s customer data subscription system was designed to support exactly that, because that’s what their data partners pay the big bucks for. Your ISP, be it Verizon, AT&T, or whoever, can suck your browsing history right out of their edge networks and summarize that for sale to marketers, if they’re willing to pay for it. The FBI can get it with a subpoena or have a friendly company buy it for them, and then they can just ask and keep the whole transaction off the books.

Anyhow, what I’m saying is that the entire stack of internet communications is a gigantic, reeking, fuck shit stack. It’s all backdoored to some degree, and all of the gear that US companies sell to the rest of the world carries those same backdoors. Put another way: every PC in China that has an Intel processor made after 2005 has a copy of the Intel Management Engine backdoor running in the silicon, and if it’s running Windows, it’s pulling executable code modules from a US company every week or two, and doing you-have-no-idea-what in a kernel level process. Thank god we’re the good guys, right?! We only root the entire planet because that’s what you have to do, to fight terrorism, kid porn, and antifa.

What we absolutely cannot have happen is for the Chinese to sell Huawei gear to the whole planet and then they’ll such sneaky bastards they’ll probably do what we do and that is utterly unacceptable.

Worse yet, TikTok. Not only is TikTok going to carry goofy videos of people, and cat-memes, the Chinese government may be collecting data out of the back-end of the system! The kind of data the FBI collects out of the back-end of Facebook. But the Chinese may be so evil that they won’t sell the data and they probably won’t share it with the FBI because, why would they?

So, we are treated to the sight of Tullius Pompeo Maxipad lying his ass off on Fox: [fox]

“These Chinese software companies doing business in the United States,” Pompeo said, “are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus. Could be [users’] facial recognition pattern, it could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they’re connected to. Those are the issues that President Trump’s made clear we’re going to take care of. These are true national security issues.”

Holy shit! I’m reviewing Pompeo’s statement multiple times and the only thing I can see different that the Chinese are doing from what the US does is: Pompeo thinks that China is still communist. He’s either that stupid, or he’s lying. Who cares which? Another lie that just jumps out at you is that “president Trump’s made ${something} clear.” Uh, no, that doesn’t happen.

Microsoft has paused its efforts to acquire the U.S. operations of TikTok, which allows users to share and post short videos. Bartiromo asked Pompeo if having those operations under Microsoft would remove the risk of Chinese spying. Pompeo would only say that the Trump administration “will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people.”

Of course it will reduce the chance of Chinese spying, because you just s/Chinese/FBI/ and you’re not worried about the Chinese at all, any more. I mean, any Chinese users of TikTok would then be subjected to FBI surveillance, but that’s OK because we’re the good guys or something. There’s also the weird part where the US government is basically strong-arming Microsoft into buying another company because: Freedom! Guns! Free Market! or something. If you ever wanted an indicator of how deeply Microsoft is in the back pocket of the surveillance state. My mind is reeling at the antitrust lawsuit that was filed against Microsoft for having too much stuff and, now, Facebook’s next in the barrel but by all means let Microsoft spend a bunch of money on a property they can destroy.


The whole thing is so ridiculous it makes bloody steam squirt out of my ears, because I know a lot of Americans will jump out of their chairs and salute and shout “yee haw!” on cue, while the government demonstrates with its highly refined cynicism, “hey, we think y’all might be a bunch of idiots, can I get a salute?” This is the same government that simultaneously exports its data to the cloud as fast as it can, while complaining that the Chinese might be looking at it. Are you fucking kidding me?! I can’t even tell who’s the dumbass, here. For safety’s sake, I can tell you one of the most likely dumbasses is the silly blob of mashed potatoes who thinks China is communist.

[vox] take on the great TikTok crisis.

Remember: in Marcus-land, all of this is in the context that the FBI and NSA collect huge amounts of information that they utterly fail to use effectively. The whole exercise is predicated, in other words, on the idea that the Chinese are as stupid as we are. We’re doomed.


  1. Dunc says

    Pompeo thinks that China is still communist. He’s either that stupid, or he’s lying.

    Technically, he just referred to China’s ruling party using its most widely-recognised (English) name. If I talk about “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, or “the Democratic Party”, it doesn’t mean I actually believe any of the claims implicit in those names.

  2. says

    If I had a smart phone it would make no difference to me if it was Huawei or some American company. I don’t care for either country so I have no preference on who gets all my data.

  3. says

    @Tabby Lavalamp: the Chinese have basically no chance that they will ever care about your data, unlike the FBI.

    Of course the Chinese would be thrilled to be able to spy on American spies (which they already do) but we’re more at risk from our own intelligence services, as individuals.

  4. fusilier says

    C’mon, Trumplethinskin is still pissy over the TikTok Kids (if I’m showing my age, tough) pranking his Tulsa extravaganza.


    James 2:24

  5. says

    C’mon, Trumplethinskin is still pissy over the TikTok Kids (if I’m showing my age, tough) pranking his Tulsa extravaganza.

    Surely, nobody could be that small. Oh, wait… Yeah, maybe.
    “Let’s force a sale to Microsoft – that’ll kill ’em dead.”

  6. dangerousbeans says

    TikTok – upcoming social media platform
    Microsoft – hasn’t had anything close to a social media platform since MSN days

    I wonder why microsoft might want a product that competes with Facebook ect?

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