TikTok is all the rage. As of April 2022, it had over a billion users and had been downloaded over 200 million times in the United States alone. It’s used by both businesses and individuals to promote themselves. And now the FCC wants to get rid of it.
The Commissioner of the FCC, Brendan Carr has urged Google and Apple to remove the TikTok app from their app stores by next week or give them a good explanation why they shouldn’t. His reason is that the Chinese have been using the mega-popular app to access and harvest U.S. user data.
Carr tweeted about his request saying, “TikTok is not just another video app. That’s the sheep’s clothing. It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing. I’ve called on @Apple & @Google to remove TikTok from their app stores for its pattern of surreptitious data practices.”
Carr talked with CNBC’s Tech Check about his concerns:
In his letter, Carr told Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook about the serious national security threat TikTok poses to the United States. For years TikTok has assured that any U.S. data is stored in the U.S., not China. But a new report by BuzzFeed proves that is not true. “[A]ccording to leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users — exactly the type of behavior that inspired former President Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States,” BuzzFeed News reports.
BuzzFeed News further reports that “[d]espite a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a ‘world-renowned, US-based security team’ decides who gets access to this data, nine statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own, according to the tapes.”
Carr’s letter says “[i]t is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access it that sensitive data.” Then Carr puts it on the companies, Google and Apple, to support why they should be able to keep TikTok on their app stores, saying, “…it is also clear that TikTok’s pattern of conduct and misrepresentation regarding the unfettered access that persons in Beijing have to sensitive US user data puts it out of compliance with the policies that both of your companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on your app store.”
Carr’s letter includes information that China has accessed passwords, cryptocurrency wallet addresses and personal messages from its American TikTok users. It notes that several military branches have banned the app on their government devices. It also referenced a lawsuit TikTok settled for $92 million where they were accused of accessing personal data from mostly minor users.
In August 2020 President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning TikTok, but the ban never went into place. When Biden took office, he revoked Trump’s executive orders, including the TikTok ban. Instead, he said he wanted to study the situation more.
This is just one more in so many of the instances where Trump was right. While Biden has been busy studying the situation (if he even initiated a study), China has continued to accumulate massive amounts of personal data from Americans. All while they are doing their little dances on TikTok. Do you think Google and Apple will remove the extremely popular TikTok from their app stores?