An FCC commissioner wants to ban TikTok from Apple and Google app stores because of the Chinese-controlled video app’s “pattern of clandestine data practices.”
Brendan Carr tweeted a letter he wrote last week to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google/Alphabet Managing Director Sundar Pichai that cited “an alarming new report.” [that] sheds new light on the serious national security threats posed by TikTok. Read his letter here.
In her tweet (see below), Carr wrote, “TikTok is not what it seems on the surface. It’s not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. It is the sheep’s clothing. At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests vast amounts of personal and sensitive data.
He added: “I have asked Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores for its pattern of clandestine data practices.”
Carr’s letter notes that the app “collects vast troves” of sensitive data from its “millions” of US users.
“TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance — an organization beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and bound by Chinese law to comply with PRC surveillance requirements,” he wrote in the letter. “Through leaked audio recordings, last week’s Buzzfeed News report found that ByteDance officials in Beijing repeatedly accessed sensitive data that TikTok collected from Americans after those American users uploaded the app through your app stores. “Everything is seen in China,” a TikTok official said in the recordings, despite TikTok repeatedly stating that the data it collects on Americans is stored in the United States.
Carr notes that the app was downloaded from the Apple App Stores and Google App Store “nearly 19 million times in the first quarter of this year alone.” ByteDance said in September that TikTok had passed 1 billion monthly active users worldwide.
Powered by an architecture that promotes sharing between other apps, TikTok has appealed to young users due to its eye-catching blend of fast-paced cutting, music and creative expression. It was launched in the United States in 2017, several years after ByteDance was founded.
Collecting user data has put TikTok in the hot seat with the US government during Donald Trump’s presidency. Officials in his administration viewed the app as a security concern and a tool that Chinese authorities could use to glean sensitive information from Americans.
In 2020, Trump issued an executive order requiring ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations to a US-led company or risk having its app taken offline. A consortium including Oracle and Walmart became the buyer, but TikTok and ByteDance successfully challenged the executive order in court. Several months after taking office, President Joe Biden reversed Trump’s executive order, instead saying the White House was reviewing potential national security concerns about Chinese-controlled apps.
In October, a Senate hearing led by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) questioned TikTok’s Michael Beckerman — as well as executives from YouTube parent Google and SnapChat owner Snap Inc. — about whether they would support the Children’s and Young People’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Among other things, the legislation would prohibit platforms from collecting personal information about users between the ages of 13 and 15 without their consent and limit the collection of personal information from teenagers.
TikTok’s Beckerman told the hearing that they “liked” the bill’s approach, but that it should include a better way to verify age on the internet.
TikTok is not just another video app.
It is the sheep’s clothing.
It harvests swathes of sensitive data that new reports say are accessed in Beijing.
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 28, 2022