US Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting that Apple and Google ban TikTok from their app stores. The request is due to the social media apps “pattern of surreptitious data practices.”
The request comes after BuzzFeed News reported that US data had been accessed from China. TikTok had been adamant for years that any data access from US users had been kept in the US. But according to leaked audio, employees of TikTok have been able to access nonpublic data about TikTok users.
“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’s response. After the revelations, TikTok was quick to respond that it was moving all US users’ data to Oracle servers. They add that they expect to delete all US user data from their own centers.
This sounds familiar. In 2020 then President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning TikTok from the US, citing an investigation in 2019 over national security concerns. TikTok responded saying that the EO was issued without any due process. Last year, President Biden revoked the ban and replaced the order with requirements that the Commerce Department review apps that may pose national security risks.
TikTok, Apple, and Google have not yet responded to the request.
Why we care. Apparently, only the US can access US user data. In all seriousness, the calls for a ban seem to be hypocritical at best. While we understand the need to limit national security threats from foreign adversaries, where do we draw the line? Will all foreign apps be required to keep their US data in the country?
Businesses that use TikTok advertising should also take note and plan for changes in the near future.