US wants TikTok removed from Apple and Google app stores over data issues

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The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has written to Apple and Google asking them to remove TikTok from their app stores. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, in the letter to the two companies’ CEOs, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, accused TikTok of harvesting swaths of sensitive data accessible in Beijing.

The commissioner alleged that TikTok is not just an app for sharing funny memes or videos, but a “sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests large amounts of personal and sensitive data.

This followed a recent report by BuzzFeed News that TikTok staff in China had access to US-based user data until January.

As of today, June 29, 2022, the TikTok app has had over a billion downloads on the Google Play Store alone.

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What the FCC Commissioner Says

Brendan Carr in the letter dated June 24, 2022 and addressed to both Apple and Google said:As you know, TikTok is an app available to millions of Americans through your app stores, and it collects vast amounts of sensitive data about those American 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.

Clearly, TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data collection combined with Beijing’s seemingly uncontrolled access to this sensitive data.

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“I am writing to you both because Apple and Google advertise themselves as app stores which are safe and trusted places to discover and download apps. Nevertheless, Apple and Google have reviewed and approved the TikTok app for inclusion in your respective app stores. Indeed, statistics show that TikTok was downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store nearly 19 million times in the first quarter of this year alone.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its intensive data collection combined with Beijing’s seemingly uncontrolled access to this data. Therefore, I ask that you apply the plain text of the policies of your app store to TikTok and to remove it from your app stores for violating these terms, wrote the FCC commissioner.

What you should know

  • TikTok’s user data practices have come under suspicion on several occasions. In 2020, India banned TikTok on national security grounds, and former US President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden raised questions about the short video app’s relationship with China and how how it affects US user data.
  • While Trump has offered an outright ban on TikTok or an option to sell his U.S. business to a local buyer, Biden has proposed new rules that will give more control over “foreign adversary jurisdiction”-related apps that may pose national security risks.

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