The Federal Communications Commission has asked Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores because of its “pattern of surreptitious data practices,” reports TechCrunch.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is said to have written to Apple and Google on Tuesday to make the request, which comes after a BuzzFeed News report last week claimed TikTok staff in China have had access to U.S. users’ data despite statements made by the company suggesting otherwise.
“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 US users. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance — an organization that is beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by the Chinese law to comply with PRC’s surveillance demands,” Carr said in a letter addressed to Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook.
“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.”
TikTok has historically responded to data privacy concerns by promising that the data of users in the United States is stored in the U.S., rather than China, where the app’s parent company ByteDance is located. However, according to BuzzFeed News, TikTok staff in China had access to U.S. user data up until January 2022. The claim contradicts testimony given by a TikTok executive under sworn oath in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to U.S. users’ data.
TikTok responded to the report by announcing that it is moving all U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers situated in the country. The company said it uses its own U.S. and Singapore-based servers for backup, but in future it expects to “delete U.S. users’ private data from our own data centers and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the U.S.”
“We’re also making operational changes in line with this work – including the new department we recently established, with US-based leadership, to solely manage US user data for TikTok,” the company added.
TikTok’s user data practices have been a point of controversy for several years now, and former U.S. President Donald Trump signed several executive orders banning apps tied to China during his time in office. In the most high profile order, Trump sought a ban of the short-form video app TikTok in 2020.
However, Trump’s bans were never enforced after several court orders blocked the restrictions, despite claims by the Trump administration that the apps posed a risk to national security.
In June 2021, President Joe Biden revoked the executive orders that Trump issued in August, which attempted to force ByteDance to divest TikTok to a U.S. company, along with another one that targeted several other messaging and financial transaction apps including Alipay and WeChat Pay. Instead, the Biden administration has said it is taking an “evidence-based approach” when reviewing the security concerns posed by apps.
Biden’s executive order states that the collecting of data from Americans “threatens to provide foreign adversaries with access to that information,” and directs the Commerce Department to continually evaluate any transactions that “pose an undue risk of catastrophic effects on the security or resiliency of the critical infrastructure or digital economy of the United States.”
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