The United States (US) Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has called on tech giants namely Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores over users’ data privacy breaches.
FCC Commissioner, Brendan Carr, in the letter to CEOs of both companies, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, accused TikTok of harvesting swaths of sensitive data that are accessed in Beijing.
This request is coming on the heels of an article published by BuzzFeed News which revealed that TikTok’s staff in China had access to US-based users’ data up until January.
He said that TikTok is not just an app for sharing funny memes or videos but a “sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data”.
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.
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 28, 2022
Carr in the letter asked both Apple and Google to remove the app from its stores for breaching their terms of service.
“TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance — an organisation that is beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by the Chinese law to comply with PRC’s surveillance demands.
“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.
“I am writing the two of you because Apple and Google hold themselves out as operating app stores that are safe and trusted places to discover and download apps.
“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,” the FCC Commissioner wrote.
Nonetheless, Apple and Google have reviewed and approved the TikTok app for inclusion in their respective app stores.
Data show that TikTok has been downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store nearly 19 million times in the first quarter of this year alone.
TikTok’s user data practices have come under suspicion in recent years.
In 2020, India banned TikTok over national security concerns, and former US President Donald Trump and the current president Joe Biden have raised questions about the app’s relations with China and how it affects US users’ data.
Trump had proposed an outright ban on TikTok or an option of selling its US business to a local buyer. Biden proposed new rules that will give more oversight on apps with ties to “jurisdiction of foreign adversaries” that may pose national security risks.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.