The commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission is urging Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores over an “unacceptable national security risk.”
Commissioner Brendan Carr said that the social media app is harvesting “swaths of sensitive data” that is being collected by TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance — before being accessed by the Chinese Communist Party.
In a letter on June 24, Carr wrote to Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc. and Google LLC CEO Sundar Pichai about how the app is a “sophisticated surveillance tool.”
“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 asserted in the letter, which he tweeted on June 28. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”
TikTok doesn’t just see its users dance videos.
It collects search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard. pic.twitter.com/GKheArMM5X
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 28, 2022
In a Twitter thread explaining the reason for his request, Carr wrote, “TikTok doesn’t just see its users dance videos. It collects search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard.”
Numerous provisions of Apple’s & Google’s policies are relevant to TikTok’s pattern of surreptitious data harvesting—a pattern that runs contrary to its public representations.
And there’s plenty of precedent for holding TikTok accountable by booting it from these app stores. pic.twitter.com/QH1w4ERDdb
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 29, 2022
“Tiktok’s pattern of misrepresentations coupled with its ownership by an entity beholden to the CCP has resulted in U.S. military branches and national security agencies banning it from government devices,” Carr continued. “Bipartisan leaders in both the Senate and House have flagged concerns.”
Carr noted that TikTok has been downloaded from the Apple and Google Play stores 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 extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” Carr wrote in the letter. “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 said that if the company’s choose not to remove the app, he would like a response 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.”
India has already banned the app citing similar national security concerns. Fox Business reports that “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.”