A U.S. ban might be back on the table for TikTok.
Federal Communications commissioner Brendan Carr tweeted an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking both companies to remove TikTok from their app stores because it “poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that data.”
TikTok is not just another video app.
That’s the sheep’s clothing.
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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. pic.twitter.com/Le01fBpNjn
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 28, 2022
The Federal Communications Commission has had its eye on TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance, since 2019. Concerns about whether Chinese officials could use TikTok to access U.S. users’ private data prompted Donald Trump and a number of lawmakers to propose banning it from U.S. app stores, and for a while, it looked like a ban would be pushed through via executive order.
Trump’s attention shifted elsewhere, however, in the leadup to his failed bid for reelection in late 2020. When the Biden administration entered the White House in early 2021, it revoked Trump’s executive orders and declined to pursue a ban.
Now, though, a new report from BuzzFeed News seems to have ignited regulators’ concerns once more.
The June 17 report examined more than 80 audio recordings of internal TikTok meetings and found 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees that suggested Chinese engineers had access to U.S. users’ data “between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least.”
TikTok gave sworn testimony to the U.S. Senate in October 2021 that a stateside security team determined who had access to U.S. users’ data. However, BuzzFeed’s report alleges eight different TikTok employees indicated they needed Chinese engineers’ help to “determine how US user data was flowing.” U.S. engineers reportedly did not know how to access users data on their own.
In his letter to Apple and Google, Carr referenced BuzzFeed’s report, saying, “[I]t is clear that TikTok’s pattern of conduct and misrepresentations regarding the unfettered access that persons in Beijing have to sensitive U.S. user data […] puts it out of compliance with policies that both your companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on your app stores.”
A TikTok spokesperson told the Washington Post that TikTok would “gladly engage with lawmakers to set the record straight.”
They added, “Recent reporting by BuzzFeed shows that TikTok is doing exactly what it said it would: addressing concerns around access to U.S. user data by employees outside the U.S.”