The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States has once again requested that Apple and Google remove the well-known video-sharing app TikTok from their app stores due to its history of sneaky data practices.
“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,” Republican FCC member Brendan Carr wrote to the heads of Apple and Google.
TikTok said in September 2021 that one billion users use the app each month, making it one of the biggest social media platforms after Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and WeChat. Carr underlined that the short-form video service is far more than just an app for sharing amusing videos or memes, describing its features as “sheep’s clothing” meant to obscure its true purpose as a “sophisticated surveillance tool” for gathering users’ personal data.
The letter also lists many scandals that TikTok has encountered over the years, such as evading Android security measures to track users online, accessing iOS clipboard data, and settling a class-action lawsuit for $92 million over claims that it had unlawfully collected biometric and personal data from users in the United States. TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has always denied sharing user data with the Chinese government. It has once again gained attention following BuzzFeed News’ disclosures that despite its denials, workers stationed in China accessed the data of U.S. consumers between September 2021 and January 2022.
A member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department was reported as saying in a meeting in September 2021 that “everything is seen in China,” while a director referred to a Beijing-based engineer as a “Master Admin” who “has access to everything” in another meeting the same month.
CNBC, citing former workers, made similar claims last year. It alleged that TikTok’s Chinese parent firm had access to the data of its American users and was actively involved in product development. TikTok stated in a statement provided to the business media source that engineers working in countries other than the United States, such as China, may be given “as-needed” access to U.S. user data under tight access rules.
Since then, TikTok has declared that it has “changed the default storage location of U.S. user data,” sending all data from users in that nation through Oracle-managed infrastructure. However, Carr remarked that these initiatives do not address the fundamental issues with data access. It’s important to note that some U.S. military branches have already prohibited their personnel from using TikTok on government-issued smartphones because of potential security issues. The Indian government took similar action to restrict the app in June 2020.