The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking Apple and Google to delist TikTok from their respective app stores. TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms in the United States, and was downloaded almost 19 million times from the App Store and Google Play in the first quarter of 2022 alone.
However, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr believes that the app’s video sharing utility is nothing more than a front for a massive Chinese surveillance operation. In a letter sent to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that TikTok is still owned by the Beijing company ByteDance, which operates at the discretion of the Communist Party.
As it relates to TikTok, that means that ByteDance is expected to comply with the Chinese government’s surveillance and oversight expectations, and recent reports indicate that the company has been more than willing to hold up its end of the bargain. Buzzfeed has reported that ByteDance officials in Beijing have unregulated access to personal information gathered from US TikTok users, despite repeated assurances from TikTok that US user data is being stored securely in US data centers.
Carr argues that that report demonstrates that TikTok cannot be trusted with sensitive user data, especially since it proves that server location is irrelevant when it comes to keeping information out of the hands of the Chinese government. TikTok has claimed that it is migrating all of its US user data to Oracle servers, but that may not change anything if TikTok is still giving Beijing executives unfettered access to that information.
For his part, Carr believes that the sheer volume of data poses a national security risk, insofar as it could be used to engage in various forms of social and cyber warfare. Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 that stated that ByteDance must sell TikTok to an American company, though that order would eventually be delayed and then canceled under the Biden administration. Carr stressed that the company’s data collection practices are in direct violation of Apple and Google’s terms of service, and has given the two tech giants until July 8 to respond to the FCC request.