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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Delete TikTok from app stores, says FCC commissioner

An FCC commissioner has called on both Apple and Google to delete TikTok from their respective app stores, giving the companies until July 8 to respond. It is not clear what measures the Federal Communications Commission might take if the companies do not comply.

The lengthy four-page letter says that TikTok is not a video-sharing app, but a “sophisticated surveillance tool” for the Chinese government …


Back in 2020, the previous president announced that TikTok would be banned in the US unless it were sold to an American company. A tight deadline was cited, but this was twice extended before being quietly ignored.

The previous administration described the app as a threat to national security, but experts said that this was only true in a rather abstract way. The Biden administration revoked the executive order, but did order a broader review of apps associated with foreign adversaries.

Delete TikTok, says FCC commissioner

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr wrote a two-page open letter to Apple and Google, calling on them to remove the app from the App Store and Google Play. He described it as a data-gathering tool for the Chinese authorities.

Last week, an alarming new report shed fresh light on the serious national security threats posed by TikTok. As you know, TikTok is an app that is available to millions of Americans through your app stores, and it collects vast troves of sensitive data about those U.S. users. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance an organization that is beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands.

Through leaked audio recordings, last week’s BuzzFeed News report revealed that ByteDance officials in Beijing have repeatedly accessed the sensitive data that TikTok has collected from Americans after those U.S. users downloaded the app through your app stores. “Everything is seen in China,” a TikTok official said in the recordings, despite the fact that TikTok has repeatedly represented that the data it gathers about Americans is stored in the United States […]

TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. That’s the sheep’s clothing. At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.

Indeed, TikTok collects everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints-which researchers have said might be used in unrelated facial recognition technology–and voiceprints. It collects location data as well as draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard.

The list of personal and sensitive data it collects goes on from there. 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.

The letter says that even if the two tech giants aren’t convinced by the claims made about how the app is used by China, they should delete TikTok because it violates App Store guidelines.

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. 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 of your companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on your app stores. Therefore, I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.

You can read the full text of the letter below.

CNBC reports that TikTok issued a brief statement in response.

We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data. That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defenses.

Neither Apple nor Google had responded at the time of writing.

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