TikTok may have taken the social media sphere by storm when it made its debut, but in recent times it has had to weather some storms of its own as well. India, the second-largest internet market in the world, outright banned TikTok (along with a host of other Chinese apps) two years ago over national security issues. Former US President Donald Trump considered something similar in 2020.
Now, two years down the line, TikTok may face losing its place in Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. That is, if the two companies reply to FCC Commissioner head Brendan Carr in the affirmative.
Carr, in a letter to the two companies, held nothing back as he asked both tech titans to remove the Chinese short-video making platform TikTok from their respective app stores for “its pattern of surreptitious data practices.” Both companies have till July 8 to explain why they have not removed TikTok from their app stores if they have not done that already.
He said that TikTok was not another video app, instead, it was the sheep’s clothing – referring to an idiom that describes those who pretend to be something contrary to their real character, and with whom contact is dangerous.
“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 the letter, which was addressed to the heads of Google and Apple – Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook respectively.
The letter, which was made public in the senior Republican commissioner’s post on Twitter, called the ByteDance-owned short video-sharing service a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests loads of personal and sensitive data (which belonged to users in the US).
The US is one of the largest markets for the six-year-old TikTok – in fact, it is the largest one, having nearly 136.5 million users engaging with the platform. This enables TikTok to have unfettered access to extensive amounts of data, which is harvested and utilized by the platform. This, according to Carr, puts TikTok as an “unacceptable national security risk.”
This is hardly the first time that TikTok’s use of US users’ data has placed it in hot waters in the country. This is an area which drew increased scrutiny from both former and current US presidents – Donald Trump and Joe Biden – and the latter even proposed new guidelines to gain increased oversight on apps that had ties to “jurisdiction of foreign adversaries.”
Given that TikTok-parent ByteDance has ties to the Communist Party of China and is required by the Chinese law to comply with the surveillance demands of the PRC, it is safe to say that TikTok qualifies in this regard.
This also comes after a recent BuzzFeed News report, which stated that TikTok’s employees in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022. TikTok, in reply, said that it was moving all US users’ data to Oracle servers situated in the country.