TikTok be removed from Apple & Google app stores?
The Federal Communications Commission USA has called on the CEOs of Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their app stores, citing new reports suggesting the video app popular among American young people is harvesting “swaths of sensitive data” that is being accessed by Beijing on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
In a letter dated June 24, Brendan Carr, the commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, warned Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc. and Google LLC CEO Sundar Pichai of “an alarming new report” that shed fresh light on “serious national security threats posed by TikTok.”
“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funning videos or memes. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” Carr wrote. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”
TikTok, available to millions of Americans through Apple and Google online stores, is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, an organization that Carr asserts is “behold to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands.”
Though it’s already well known that TikTok collects vast troves of sensitive data from its U.S. users, Carr pointed to a new report by BuzzFeed News citing leaked recordings that reveal ByteDance officials in Beijing have repeatedly accessed the data collected from Americans who downloaded TikTok from Apple and Google app stores.
The revelation contradicts previous claims from TikTok that data collected from Americans through the video app is stored on servers in the United States.
“Everything is seen in China,” a TikTok official says in the recording.
The letter notes how TikTok collects everything from search and browsing histories, to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints – which researchers say might be used in unrelated facial recognition technology – and voiceprints. The app also collects location data, draft messages, metadata, and the text, images and videos stored on a device’s clipboard.
“The list of personal and sensitive data it collects goes on from there,” Carr wrote. “This should come as no surprise, however. Within its own borders, the PRC has developed some of the most invasive and omnipresent surveillance capabilities in the world to maintain authoritarian control.”
TikTok has been downloaded in the U.S. from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store nearly 19 million times in the first quarter of this year alone, the letter, tweeted by Carr Tuesday, says.
“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” Carr wrote to Cook and Pichai. “But it is also clear that TikTok’s pattern of conduct and misrepresentations regarding the unfettered access that persons in Beijing have to sensitive U.S. user data – just some of which is detailed below – puts it out of compliance with the policies that both your companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on your app stores.”
Carr requested that Cook and Pichai remove TikTok from Apple and Google stores.
If they do not remove the app, Carr requested a response letter by July 8 “explaining the case for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies.”
The letter notes how India, the world’s largest democracy, has banned TikTok on national security grounds. Multiple branches of the U.S. military have also banned TikTok from government-issued devices and have urged troops and their dependents to erase the app from their personal phones.
The RNC and DNC have warned campaigns about using TikTok based on security concerns, and U.S. private business operations have banned TikTok from company devices, including Wells Fargo.