Federal Communications Commission member Brendan Carr on Tuesday called for Apple and Google to remove the TikTok app from its online stores, citing serious concerns about privacy.
“TikTok is not just another video app. That’s the sheep’s clothing. It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing,” he said, referencing the popular video app’s Chinese-based parent company, ByteDance.
Carr, who was previously General Counsel for the FCC, shared the June 24 letter he sent to both tech companies on Twitter, along with the message: “I’ve called on @Apple & @Google to remove TikTok from their app stores for its pattern of surreptitious data practices.”
He added, “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.”
Carr’s letter calls ByteDance “beholden” to the Chinese government and stated that the company is “required by law to comply with [Chinese government] surveillance demands.”
He cited a June 17 BuzzFeed News report that alleged ByteDance employees in China have accessed U.S. TikTok users’ data, including birth dates and phone numbers on multiple occasions. Carr said the report, which was conducted by an external auditor on BuzzFeed’s behalf, demonstrates that TikTok is “out of compliance with the policies that both [Apple and Google] require every app to adhere to.”
TikTok called theBuzzFeed report “misleading” in a statement sent to CNN: “Like many global companies, TikTok has engineering teams around the world. We employ access controls like encryption and security monitoring to secure user data, and the access approval process is overseen by our US-based security team. TikTok has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the US, including China, can be granted access to U.S. user data on an as-needed basis under those strict controls.”
The FCC does not currently regulate internet-based services such as app stores. Then-president Donald Trump’s late 2020 TikTok ban did not survive subsequent court challenges. President Biden overturned the ban in June 2021.
On Wednesday, eight Republican politicians, including Senator Roger Wicker, Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn shared a letter sent to CEO of TikTok Shou Zi Chew expressing their concern over the BuzzFeed report.
“We are very concerned that, in light of these reports, TikTok’s representative did not provide truthful or forthright answers to the Senate Commerce Committee at its subcommittee hearing. It appears that TikTok is now taking steps to deflect from its knowing misrepresentations by changing the way in which ‘protected’ data can be accessed by its employees,” the letter read in part.
In February, TheWrap obtained two major studies conducted in 2020 and 2021 by cybersecurity experts that appear to confirm longstanding concerns about the app that have been raised by privacy experts.
According to the summaries, TikTok can circumvent security protections on Apple and Google app stores and uses device tracking that gives ByteDance full access to user data. TheWrap was unable to verify the original studies, but reviewed the conclusions and confirmed them with five independent experts.