Today’s startups should shock you.


Steady stream New startups pitch their ideas, concepts, products and services to TechCrunch reporters every day: startups that predict when employees will want to leave for a new job. You think you can detect depression using a person’s voice; That trial using chatbots in patients with depression; Face-scratching the internet to allow police to conduct facial recognition surveillance.

And they scare me more than most of these rookies.

Most of the attention today is on Tik Tok, the viral video-sharing app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, which has been banned for fear of the data it collects falling into the hands of the Chinese government.

It’s not an unreasonable fear, especially when over a billion users worldwide use the app. But TikTok isn’t the only company that can share data with China. Thousands of US apps and companies share our data with advertisers and data brokers, which exposes data to China, which exposes data to China.

But while lawmakers and the government constantly fixate on TikTok and China, they continue to ignore the bigger problem, and that’s at home. The dreaded call is coming from home in America.

All startups strive to be the next generation of Amazons, Ubers, Facebooks, and Googles, and see dollar signs in the eyes of these American tech giants. But if money is anything to go by, it’s worth looking at how Amazon, Uber, Facebook and Google got here. It is on our data that many (if not all) of the tech giants have made billions. Some call it innovation and disruption; Others see it as exploitation.

Look at the mess made by the first generation of tech titans. We’ve seen how our data is used by companies to leverage power to make money, such as market or user share. Amazon uses data to prop up its own sales while keeping close tabs on its employees, pushing out competitors and small businesses. Uber played with its security and privacy practices for years, then tried to cover up a major data breach. Facebook was used to incite outright genocide, which in part led to the company’s entire rebranding. And Google’s data practices keep the US Department of Justice’s antitrust division in business.

These data-hungry tech companies have breached our security, destroyed our privacy, tracked us, sold our data, lost our data, monopolized the competition, driven out small businesses, and put the entire population at risk.

A handful of laws and regulations have allowed America’s tech companies to thrive and grow with the personal data and information we create, including everything from what we buy to what we go with, to the content we interact with the people we use. If the saying that data is the new currency is true, it’s no wonder why tech companies are thriving. There are few rules on what companies can do with our data, but to make more profitable playbooks. Every day new startups have our data in their sights, but as today’s technology-savvy consumers, what hope do we have when our security and privacy conditions are compromised?

While unlikely, a national ban on TikTok will not prevent Americans from accessing their data in China. The data needs to be sourced – by not allowing US tech companies to collect gobs of data from people’s devices, for starters.

America stands alone as one of the few superpowers without data protection or privacy laws. This is an unregulated and unregulated environment that puts Americans’ data in the hands of China or whoever pays them. Creating a federal privacy law that covers the entire country and making it work is not easy. This is why each state has enacted laws differently.

California was the first state to provide its residents with strong consumer and data protections, giving Californians the right to access, change, and delete information that companies collect about them. California’s consumer privacy law is considered one of the strongest in the country — because it works. Companies in the state, home to Silicon Valley and tech titans, have had to respect their data collection practices and carve out exceptions for millions of Californians. But this still leaves millions of Americans with no privacy protections.

Only a handful of states have followed California’s lead, but few new laws have reached similar levels thanks to corrupt (or lazy) lawmakers watering down bills in their states to benefit lobbying firms. Meanwhile, the tech lobby is actively lobbying for federal legislation aimed at creating weaker laws across the US to replace patchwork state laws, including in California.

Startups today should scare you because of their near unlimited and unbridled ability to do anything with our data and face no consequences. Even when tech giants have historically broken their own security and privacy promises, regulators are under-resourced and outnumbered, and lack the power to hold repeat offenders meaningfully accountable.

Without a line of defense to protect our data, today’s and tomorrow’s startups can work like yesterday’s mistakes.



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