Author: Zoltán Kész

Banning TikTok is Just the Beginning

The hype around banning TikTok on official government devices shows us that liberal democracies are beginning to take Chinese influence seriously, and the appeasing economic policies of the last two decades are soon to be a thing of the past. Are we late to wake up? Time will tell.

The debate regarding TikTok concerns something other than the app’s quality or what people use it for. It is about how China collects data to achieve an even larger scale. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is taking the AI competition seriously. To surpass its competitors, it needs a considerable quantity of data, through which the aggregate of useful information can help make its artificial intelligence more and more successful. One would argue that China has the advantage of having the largest population on Earth, so having a suitable aggregate at home is a plus. It is also clear that government-sponsored mass surveillance has been happening in China for a while. With the help of CCTVs, apps, different consumer tech devices, biometric mapping of citizens, and Internet surveillance, the communist country constantly monitors its citizens. Although the results are probably auspicious, China needs even more data about foreigners to perfect its AI project.

On the other hand, having an app on devices with sensitive information also going through can be dangerous for lawmakers. The apparent cybersecurity threat has forced EU lawmakers to enact new
legislation to ban TikTok
on government-issued devices. Similarly, sensitive information can be tracked from the websites of organizations, schools, companies, and basically anything. American researchers showed many companies embed TikTok trackers called pixels on their sites. They studied many sites ending in .edu, .gov, and .org, only to find that most used these trackers without being aware of additional risks. It also entails that TikTok can track you even if you don’t use the app.

In the United States, the issue regarding TikTok was already raised by the Trump administration, but only at the end of 2022 did they finally come up with legislation to ban the app on government devices, plus many schools and states followed the example of the federal government.

Picking up on the American example of model legislation to regulate TikTok, the Consumer Choice Center launched a campaign in January to initiate similar rules and laws in the European Union. Raising awareness was imperative that the people understood the threat behind Chinese influence in Europe. Through different solutions, from a partial ban to complete divestiture of TikTok, the Consumer Choice Center has also looked at other types of Chinese economic influence and the diversity of Chinese tech that influences our everyday lives.

There is still much work to be done if Europeans want to avoid making the same mistake regarding tech dependence on China as they did in the case of Russian gas. Any energy, technology, or economic dependence will entail dire consequences for liberal democracies. As countries like Australia and the UK have already moved forward in restricting and banning other Chinese technologies, the European Union and the member states should consider taking further steps if they don’t want their citizens to be surveilled by a foreign nation.

We obtained the letter: TikTok to be removed from all European Parliament devices and content blocking will also be introduced

Media1 has obtained the letters sent to all 705 MEPs on this issue.

The Directorate-General for Innovation and Technology Support writes to MEPs that cybersecurity concerns have been raised on the usage on the use of TikTok social media platform, in particular regarding data protection and collection of data by third parties.

In view of these risks, the President of the European ParliamentRoberta Metsola, and the Secretary General, in alignment with other institutions have agreed to

  • that TikTok application must not be used or installed on Parliament’s corporate devices, such as mobile phones and tablets,
  • TikTok applications that have already been downloaded and installed must be uninstalled as soon as possible.

Access to the service will also be technically blocked

This measure applies as from 20 March 2023 to Parliament corporate devices enrolled in Parliament’s mobile management application. As of this date, web access to TikTok through our corporate network, i.e. on corporate desktops and laptops, will also be blocked.

There is also a Hungarian connection to the case

As previously reported by Media1, the respected international free market lobbying organisation Consumer Choice Center, which has a Hungarian manager: former MP Zoltán Készwrote in a January resolution to EU policymakers that it is time for the EU to step up its action on TikTok “before it is too late”.

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Made in China – Sold in China

For decades, we have been used to seeing almost everything we buy with the label ‘Made in China.’ It was convenient for every party, consumer and seller alike. However, lately Chinese tech products have caused quite a lot of concern in the free world.

TikTok is one of the most talked about issues. The app’s popularity casts a shadow on the danger it poses regarding data collection and the apparent link between the company and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). No surprise that several governments have already taken steps to limit the use of the app. First, the United States banned TikTok on government devices, followed by some universities doing the same. Canada is likely to follow, and many people hope the slow and bureaucratic EU legislation will pass something similar.

Another concern is the Huawei 5G network, which some EU countries have already given up. Still, most member states depend on this Chinese technology, although many alternative service providers come from the free world. 

Lately, it has caused uproar in Australia to learn that the notorious Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua provided surveillance cameras to government buildings. According to James Paterson, the opposition spokesperson for cybersecurity and countering foreign interference, the Commonwealth was “riddled with CCP spyware,” and he urged the government to remove them immediately. Some months ago, the same took place in the United Kingdom, where these two companies were banned due to human rights issues and possible espionage.

The latest news that has caused worry has come from Android users in China, where the cell phones of popular Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Oppo Realme collect a massive amount of data via their operating systems. Although, as of now, we only have information that this concerns only phones in China, we must be cautious about using similar Chinese tech products and services. Otherwise, we will end up having our data ‘Sold in China.’

Originally published here

A kínai akkumulátorgyárak a politikai biztonságunkra is veszélyesek lehetnek

A Consumer Choice Center lobbiszervezet honlapján Kész Zoltán, korábbi országgyűlési képviselő felveti, hogy mivel a 8 milliárd dollár értékű debreceni beruházás lépéseit a Kínai Kommunista Párt ellenőrzi, és annak mérföldköveiről a kínai és magyar vezetés határoz, ezért a CATL gyár működésének biztonságpolitikai aggályai is vannak.

Emlékeznek arra, amikor 2021 végén Magyarország pekingi nagykövete említést tett arról, hogy hazája büszke arra, hogy a kínai vállalatok belépési pontjaként szolgálhat az Európai Unió területén?

– kezdi Kész Zoltán, korábbi országgyűlési képviselő elemző írását a Consumer Choice Center lobbiszervezet honlapján. A szervezet magyar vezetője felidézi, hogy akkoriban főképp a Fudan Egyetem budapesti campusa, a Belgrád-Budapest vasút, a lélegeztetőgép üzlet vagy a hazánkban megjelenő kínai high tech cégek jutottak az emberek eszébe erről a kijelentésről.


Kész Zoltán kiemeli, hogy ez a projekt nem pusztán környezetvédelmi veszélyeket rejt, és idézi a megfigyelési kérdésekkel foglalkozó szakportál, az Intelligence Online megállapítását, amely szerint

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The debate on whether to ban Tiktok is not about free speech

The intellectual debate among classical liberals on the necessary or unnecessary limits of free speech has been going on for quite a while. It is mostly accepted that liberal democracies must be the guardians of free speech and help other countries achieve the same end. However, a new, 21st-century version of liberal democracy entails admitting that when one has authoritarian regimes to counter, one must have security measures to defend our democracies against totalitarian countries.

We at the Consumer Choice Center believe in free speech and tech innovation and in being free from surveillance from rogue regimes. Free trade with private companies is also vital to world trade. Still, when it comes to the Chinese communist regime owning a part of a company, it worries us to see that our liberal democracies may be harmed by the possibility of European consumers’ devices being spied on.

Obviously, I am referring to the popular social media platform TikTok here. Due to national security concerns, governments in North America are taking serious steps against the Chinese app. In the USA, it has been banned by the federal government for their employees on work-related devices, and also some universities have followed suit. Canadian authorities are equally considering a similar ban for the very same security reasons. Should the European Union do the same? If it intends to ensure the security and privacy of its citizens, liberal democracies in the EU cannot deny this new reality of the 21stcentury.

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Betiltják a TikTokot Európában?

A Consumer Choice Center kedden az EU döntéshozóinak címzett állásfoglalásában azt írja, hogy itt az ideje, hogy az EU is fokozza a TikTokkal kapcsolatos intézkedéseit, „mielőtt ez túl késő volna”. 

Mintha az elmúlt napokban kezdene elfogyni az EU-ban a levegő a TikTokkörül.

Január 19-én az Európai Bizottság belső piacért felelős európai biztosa, Thierry Breton videóhíváson keresztül tárgyalt a kínai minivideó-megosztó platform vezérigazgatójával, Sou Ce Csuval. A biztos a megbeszélés kapcsán a TikTok elsősorban tizenéves közönségére utalva úgy fogalmazott:

„A lehető leghamarabb”

Breton hozzátette, hogy az európai fiatalok millióit elérő platformként a TikToknak teljes mértékben meg kell felelnie az uniós jogszabályoknak, különösen a digitális szolgáltatásokról szóló EU-s jogszabálynak. Az európai uniós nyelvezettől eltérően szokatlanul élesen hozzátette, hogy megkérte a TikTok vezérigazgatóját, hogy a „lehető leghamarabb” mutassa be „nemcsak az erőfeszítéseket, hanem azok eredményeit is”.

A január 19-i tárgyalást megelőzte január 10-én egy személyes brüsszeli találkozó, amikor Sou Ce Csu több biztossal is eszmecserét folytatott a platform európai jövőjéről. Vera Jourova, az Európai Bizottság alelnöke ekkor közölte: nem szabad, hogy kétséges legyen, hogy az európai felhasználók adatai biztonságban vannak és nincsenek kiszolgáltatva harmadik országbeli hatóságok illegális hozzáférésének. Emmanuel Macron francia elnök szerint a kínai platform „megtévesztően ártatlannak tűnik”, de függőséget okoz és orosz dezinformációt terjeszt.

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Chinese Battery Plant Posing Security Concerns

Remember when at the end of 2021, Hungarian Ambassador to Beijing mentioned that Hungary is proud to serve as the entry point for Chinese companies to the European Union? Most people were already thinking of the establishment of a Fudan University campus in Budapest, the Belgrade-Budapest Railroad, the notorious respiratory ventilator deal during Covid, and even helping high-tech companies enter the EU market. However, the latest and most talked about investment is building a battery plant in the city of Debrecen by Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd (CATL). It is supposed to be a 8bn USD investment (plus the subsidies by the pro-Chinese Hungarian government), which is now one of the hottest topics in Hungary as many opposition parties and green organizations have been demonstrating publicly due to environmental concerns. Nevertheless, other worrisome issues should be mentioned regarding the plant.

According to Intelligence Online, the new plant serves the geopolitical interests of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Moreover, the investment is controlled by the CCP, and the Chinese and Hungarian foreign ministers make the most strategic decisions. It is no surprise that Hungary has shifted its trade focus from the west to the east in the past decade. Also, Prime Minister Orban, who is not only Putin’s biggest ally in the European Union, has praised the Chinese type of state capitalism in the past years. Besides these, there is an argument stating that China wants to reward Hungary for siding with it regarding Taiwan.

CATL perfectly fits in the line of TikTok, Huawei, Hikvision, Dahua, and others when it comes to conquering the European markets and using technologies and companies that directly serve the political interests of the communist party. It even looks like the Chinese government was racing with time to establish its key points in Europe before it was too late. And as we are experiencing now, the window of opportunity has been closing rapidly recently. Some EU countries have already got rid of the Huawei 5G network, the United States has introduced a ban on TikTok in federal institutions, and Canada is also moving in this direction. In the EU, some politicians have also voiced their concerns about Chinese economic expansion and a possible ban on TikTok due to human rights and security concerns. We at the Consumer Choice Center have also expressed our worry regarding excessive Chinese presence in Europe, and we have already called on EU lawmakers to consider a US-like ban on TikTok. Our standpoint is clear: as long as the CCP is involved in “private” business, they should not have anything to do with European trade. If there is a chance of sensitive data of EU citizens being handled by the communist party, EU leaders should opt for a zero-tolerance approach. Although many commentators and politicians offer attractive solutions, most would appease the Chinese. We uphold our argument that whenever security issues are concerned, a “forced divestiture of a company regulated and overseen by regulators in liberal democratic nations seems to be the most prudent measure.”

Alcohol labeling and ban: Ireland in the dark path of Lithuania

European Union member states are busy regulating alcohol use and limiting consumer choice even though historically, it has shown that bans and limitations on use have had the opposite effect as had been intended.

There are two recent examples of strict alcohol regulations, both coming from countries where alcohol consumption is high. Hence, lawmakers believe that limitations are needed to decrease the number of drinkers.

Lithuania started down this road in 2017 when Parliament put the following into to law: they banned the advertisement of alcohol; the legal age to buy alcohol was raised to twenty; the opening hours for shops to sell alcohol was shortened; in restaurants, maximum alcohol content was maximized; and alcohol sale at sports events or on the beach is also restricted.

The measures have become very unpopular among consumers in the past years. However, there has yet to be a severe political movement to repeal the law. As usual with similar bans (think of the Prohibition in the USA a century ago), people have found ways to find loopholes in the system. Youngsters asking their older friends to purchase alcohol, people crossing borders to find alcohol in other countries after the ban hours, or the illegal sale of alcohol at houses are just a few examples of the creative ways people come up with.

At the other end of the continent, Ireland has been active in regulating alcohol sales. Recently, plans have been introduced to label alcohol products with possible health risks once consumed. The decision is very disadvantageous for Irish consumers who will be deprived of some of the best wines of Italy, France or Portugal, because it will just not be worth it for them to take on the costs associated with relabeling bottles for a market as small as Ireland. Both sellers and buyers will lose due to this decision.

We at the Consumer Choice Center condemn any alarmist measure that is unjustified but would have the effect of influencing consumers to make negative decisions. It worries us to see that politicians are jumping on the bandwagon of populistic legislation for unfounded reasons, as treating all responsible drinkers as if they drink excessively is anything but a sound decision.

The message from consumers to lawmakers when they are obsessed with regulating their lives is that they should finally be considered adults and not treated like children when they want to make their own choice. If problematic drinking is an issue of concern in either of these countries, then legislative action should be taken in a targeted way that focuses on those who struggle with substance abuse, rather than a heavy handed approach that treats all drinkers as if they are alcoholics. 

Time for the EU to Counter TikTok

The free world is growing increasingly suspicious about the popular Chinese social media platform TikTok. In only the latest example, Canadian authorities are warning its citizens about the dangers of using the app for both their privacy and security.

Although TikTok denies sharing sensitive information about users with the Chinese government, the head of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) Canadian Centre for Cyber Security still cautions users about the security of personal and contact information they share with the app.

Canada might be following in the footsteps of the United States, where, due to national security concerns, the usage of the Chinese app has been banned by the federal government for their employees on work-related devices. Moreover, several US states and public universities have followed the same path.

These actions, which mirror nuanced policy measures that aim to hold the app accountable while ensuring no sensitive devices download the app, are a new reality for liberal democracies aiming to ensure the security and privacy of its citizens and state employees. 

The Consumer Choice Center has already voiced concerns about the app’s growing number of vulnerable users in the European Union, and the influence of the CCP. Looking at the involvement of the Chinese Communist Party in the tech giant and its record of mass surveillance and human rights violations, lawmakers in the European Union should also start considering how to deal with TikTok. Although the parent company of the app has denied the abuse of individual data, it is more than worrying to experience how users’ personal information is being harvested and can be used once in the wrong hands.

There are more reasons to be concerned than just the dance videos and contact information uploaded to the popular sharing app. The Chinese government has invested heavily in artificial intelligence with mass surveillance in the past decade, and TikTok is only the latest iteration. 

Companies like Huawei or the state-owned CCTV manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua have already reached the level of worry in the European Union and been seriously considered by communications agencies and parliaments. As a result, Hikvision fever cameras, used during COVID, have already been banned from the premises due to human rights concerns. The Chinese Communist Party uses these cameras in serious human rights abuses against its Uyghur population.

It is time for the EU to step up its measures regarding TikTok as well before it is too late. We must emphasize that in expanding differences between liberal democracies and illiberal ones, the free world must understand how to properly address the technologies built and controlled by totalitarian regimes, hoping we can avoid severe security issues that will harm us in the long run. 

Therefore, the EU must consider smart policies to counter or curb TikTok’s influence among our state and governmental institutions. It may be a small step, but in the end we must favor technologies that help empower consumers and citizens, rather than subjugate them to the malicious influence of a totalitarian regime.

Tick-tock for TikTok in the EU?

TikTok has become one of the most popular apps for consumers in the European Union, giving the Chinese Communist Party-controlled firm more access than ever to data of European citizens.

Given the very clear issues with the spread of TikTok and its connection to the regime, should EU lawmakers consider US-like legislation (barring federal employees from using the app) or even more radical regulation to protect European consumers from a Chinese government platform? 

Zoltán Kész, Consumer Choice Government Affairs Manager, states that there is a real threat of consumers being spied on.

“With more than 230 million TikTok users in the European Union, nearly half the population, we should begin looking into solutions to encourage the governments of member states or even the European Parliament to control the Chinese app’s influence in our institutions.”

“We at Consumer Choice Center believe in free speech and tech innovation, and we also believe in being free from surveillance from despotic regimes. Free trade with private companies is also essential to global trade. Still, when it comes to the communist government ownership in the company, it worries us to see that our liberal democracies may be harmed by the possibility of European consumers’ devices being spied on,” says Kész.

“A new, 21st-century version of liberal democracies must admit that when it is authoritarian regimes involved on one side of the equation, you have to have security measures in place to save our democracies from totalitarians,” concludes Kész.

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