A new warning has been issued to Apple and Google, urging the tech titans to remove the China-based app TikTok from their app stores. Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr cited a new Buzzfeed News report about the “serious national security threats posed by TikTok” in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
According to the report, which examined leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings, nonpublic data about TikTok users in the United States had been accessed by employees of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. TikTok executive Michael Beckerman told Congress in 2021 that “TikTok actually collects less data than many of our peers.”
However, according to the BuzzFeed report, ByteDance employees in Beijing have repeatedly accessed sensitive data collected from Americans who download TikTok, an app that allows users to create, share, and react to short videos.
According to BuzzFeed, a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department stated in a September meeting, “Everything is seen in China.”
Carr stated that “Apple and Google hold themselves out as operating app stores that are safe and trusted places to download apps,” but that “Apple and Google hold themselves out as operating app stores that are safe and trusted places to download apps.” According to Carr, the app has been downloaded 19 million times from these two app stores in the first quarter of 2022 alone.
“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk as a result of its extensive data combined with Beijing’s seemingly unchecked access to that data,” he said. TikTok’s “pattern of conduct and misrepresentations regarding the unfettered access that persons in Beijing have to sensitive U.S. user data” violates Apple and Google’s policies.
With an executive order, President Donald Trump attempted to ban the app, which was immediately challenged in court. In June 2021, President Joe Biden replaced the failed ban with a new executive order calling for a government review of foreign-owned apps to determine whether they pose any security risks.
China, according to the Biden administration, “does not share these values and seeks to leverage digital technologies and Americans’ data in ways that present unacceptable national security risks while advancing authoritarian controls and interests.”
Other lawmakers have also called for TikTok to be held accountable. Following the publication of the BuzzFeed report, Republican Senators Roger Wicker and Tom Cotton wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking why the Biden administration had taken so long to investigate “the national security and privacy risks posed by TikTok.” The letter was signed by four other Republican lawmakers.
On Monday, Wicker joined Sen. Marsha Blackburn and others in a second letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, citing the BuzzFeed report and others.
The group asked the TikTok CEO several questions, including, “Is it true that TikTok employees in China currently have, or have had in the past, access to US data?” as well as concerns about the app’s algorithm and the Chinese government’s involvement
State attorneys general launched a nationwide investigation into TikTok and its potential negative effects on young users’ mental health earlier this year, broadening government scrutiny of the wildly popular video platform. The investigation by a number of states and led by California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.
In response to the BuzzFeed report and lawmakers’ questions, a TikTok spokesperson stated that the company is “doing exactly what it said it would: addressing concerns about access to U.S. user data by employees outside the U.S.”
“We’ve been very clear and vocal about our efforts in this area, as we seek to address both location and data access. We are pleased that we are now routing 100 percent of U.S. user traffic to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, and we are continuing to work on additional safeguards for U.S. data to provide greater peace of mind to our coworkers “”Community,” the statement says.
The TikTok spokesperson also said the company would “gladly engage with lawmakers to set the record straight regarding BuzzFeed’s misleading reporting,” and that it “has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the U.S., including China, can be granted access to U.S. user data on an as-needed basis under those strict controls.”