Friday, March 22, 2024

Tech Official Could Profit from TikTok Ban Amid U.S.–China Cold War | TOME


Among the many hawks on Capitol Hill, few have as effectively frightened lawmakers over Chinese control of TikTok as Jacob Helberg, a member of the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission. Helberg’s day job at the military contractor Palantir, however, means he stands to benefit from ever-frostier relations between the two countries.

Helberg’s Influence on TikTok Ban:
Helberg has been instrumental in the renewed legislative fight against TikTok, according to the Wall Street Journal. Spearheading the effort to create the bipartisan, bicoastal alliance of China hawks is Jacob Helberg. The paper noted collaboration between Helberg, previously a policy adviser at Google, and investor and fellow outspoken China hawk Peter Thiel, as well as others in Thiel’s circle. The anti-China coalition has been hammering away at a TikTok ban, and Helberg said he has spoken to over 100 members of Congress about the video-sharing social media app.

Conflict of Interest Concerns:
From his position on the U.S.–China commission, founded by Congress to advise it on national security threats represented by China, Helberg’s rhetoric around TikTok has been as jingoistic as any politician. However, his role as a policy adviser to Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir, raises concerns about a conflict of interest. Palantir relies heavily on government contracts for AI work, a business that would grow in a tech arms race with China.

Big Tech’s China Hawks:
Helberg’s activities are part of a broader constellation of anti-China advocacy orbiting around Peter Thiel, who co-founded Palantir and is still invested in the company. Thiel has consistently criticized the Chinese tech sector as inherently malignant. Thiel’s remarks on China are often outlandish and alarmist, contributing to the narrative of conflict with China being both inevitable and necessary.

TikTok, Bad! China, Bad!:
The anti-TikTok rhetoric from tech luminaries serves to reinforce the notion that China is the enemy of the U.S. and that countering this enemy is worth the industry’s price tags. However, the national security threat posed by TikTok remains entirely hypothetical. The pending legislation to effectively ban the app is already dialing up hostility between the two countries.

Conflict of Interest in Policy Making:
Experts have raised concerns about the participation of tech company officials like Helberg in governmental advisory boards, as it could create competing interests between sound policymaking and corporate profits. The intentional design element of embedding corporate interests in policymaking through advisory boards can contribute to conflicts like those surrounding China and Taiwan.

In conclusion, while it is common for defense contractors and tech industry officials to discuss threats like those posed by China with an eye on their bottom line, it is essential for policymakers like Helberg to make clear distinctions when making policy recommendations. The ongoing campaign to pass the TikTok bill highlights the need for transparency and accountability in navigating the complex web of interests involved in U.S.–China relations.

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