TikTok currently stands as one of the most popular social media apps but still lags giants like Facebook and YouTube. As with many digitally based companies, TikTok was well positioned during the Covid-19 pandemic and saw remarkable surges in downloads during the first two quarters of 2020.

While the government was somewhat forced to issue rules and regulations based on incomplete information during the pandemic, the same cannot be said for the current day. Despite this,  lawmakers have recently introduced and held hearings for HR 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. This bill would make it “unlawful for an entity to distribute, maintain, or update (or enable the distribution, maintenance, or updating of) a foreign adversary controlled application,” like TikTok, from operating in the U.S. unless they are divested. What is troubling for consumers is that this act would restrict access to a service based on opaque security concerns that appear targeted towards one company while ignoring others.

National Security Concerns
During the Thursday hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, HR 7521 was likened to wartime measures taken during World War II to limit foreign propaganda. While the exact details regarding the threat from Chinese companies weren’t available to the public, based on this justification, the proposed solution has glaring problems.

If the government has deemed that Chinese companies and data privacy are a national security threat, then they should act in a way that is fair and adequately protects consumers. A piecemeal approach simply restricts consumer access while not making anyone safer.

ByteDance Isn’t the Only Company with Chinese Connections
It is well documented that the Chinese government has no problem weaponizing data and has come under criticism for its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to aid in its surveillance state. The American Consumer Institute (ACI) recognized this in its work on AI policy.

However, if China is a big enough threat to warrant banning TikTok, then other companies and their relationships with China should also be examined. Additionally, there are concerns about reliance on China within U.S. weapons systems supply chains, but none of these concerns would be addressed by HR 7521.

Data Privacy Should be Addressed with an Economy-Wide Measure
Like connections to the Chinese government, TikTok is also not alone in raising concerns over data privacy. ACI has already expressed the need for data privacy reform that would apply to all companies and protect consumers’ information, while respecting their choices to engage with digital companies and platforms.

This measure could include requirements to anonymize data, deletion timelines, and increased transparency and understanding of data practices. What data privacy legislation should not do is target specific companies while ignoring risks posed by others.

The government does have certain responsibilities regarding national security. However, the public shouldn’t blindly accept such a justification when the result would limit access to technology, especially when the scope is too limited to make consumers any safer if such a threat exists.

Tirzah Duren is the Vice President of Policy and Research at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. You can follow her on X @ConsumerPal.