Why does the FCC want Apple and Google to take TikTok off their app stores?
The Federal Communications Commission commissioner is urging the heads of Apple and Alphabet to remove Chinese-owned TikTok from their app stores.
Brendan Carr, the Federal Communications Commission commissioner, sent a letter to the chief executives of Apple and Alphabet, parent company of Google, calling on them to boot TikTok from their app stores. In his letter Carr warns that “an alarming new report shed fresh light on the serious national security threats posed by TikTok.”
“TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance-an organization that is beholden to the Communist Party of China,” the FCC commissioner said. “And is required to by Chinese law to comply with PRC’s surveillance demands.”
TikTok knows engineers in China have access to US data says report
The report that Carr cites was published by BuzzFeed detailing how ByteDance engineers in China can see “everything”. The claims are based on leaked recordings of internal TikTok meetings. In audios employees discuss on several occasions US TikTok users nonpublic data was accessed by China-based employees of ByteDance.
“TikTok is not just another video app. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” Carr posted on Twitter with details of the letter he sent. “It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing.”
According to BuzzFeed the tapes indicate that US data has been accessed far more frequently and recently than previously disclosed including in sworn testimony to lawmakers in Congress. In a statement, TikTok said that it has “has engineering teams around the world,” including in China, which can be granted access to US user data on “an as-needed basis” under “strict controls.”
TikTok is separating US operations from China
Fears about China gaining access to sensitive user data through TikTok is nothing new. Former President Trump threatened to ban the video-sharing social media app unless it was sold to a US-based company. However, those deals fell through but another workaround was found.
TikTok is in the process of separating its US operations from those of its parent company in Beijing after coming under US regulatory scrutiny over its gathering of US personal data. In 2020, ByteDance was ordered to divest TikTok by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
The federal government inter-agency committee which reviews deals by foreign investors for potential national security risks is worried that US user data could be passed on to China’s communist government. In order allay those fears TikTok has migrated US user information as part of Project Texas and now “100% of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.”
As for Carr’s letter to Apple and Alphabet it is a bit strange as his agency doesn’t have clear regulatory jurisdiction over the content of app stores. The FCC grants licenses to companies for communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable .