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FCC commissioner urges Apple and Google to ban TikTok

Will a TikTok ban ever actually happen?

Tiktok logo with blurred smartphone in the background
Image: KnowTechie

A senior Federal Communications Commission official has written to the heads of Google and Apple to call for the removal of TikTok from their app stores

In a letter addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr raised concerns about data on US users being transferred to China.

Carr went as far as to describe the popular video-sharing app as a profound national security risk.

READ MORE: TikTok finally adds ‘content levels’ to limit what kids see on the app

Carr cited a recent BuzzFeed News investigation that alleged China-based employees of ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, routinely accessed data on US-based users.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Tiktok on iphone
Image: Unsplash

The report, from BuzzFeed News journalist Emily Baker-White, cited over 80 internal meetings. The recordings — which included both low-level technical staffers and senior executives — contained 14 references to China-based employees accessing US user data.

In his letter, Carr said TikTok poses an “unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data.”

READ MORE: TikTok’s in-app browser can track every tap you make

The commissioner pointed out that BuzzFeed’s investigation contradicts ByteDance’s previous protestations that it only stores and accesses data on American users within the US itself.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. That’s the sheep’s clothing. At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” Carr wrote.

READ MORE: New TikTok hack reportedly exposes source code and user data

Carr, a Trump Administration appointee who served as one of five FCC commissioners since 2017, has no power to ban TikTok outright.

However, his voice is one of many that has emerged over the previous few years raising alarm about the app, which commands a sizable (and young) userbase in the United States.

Growing pressure against TikTok

Tiktok logo and pro-trump tiktokers
Image: KnowTechie

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order demanding ByteDance divest its ownership of TikTok within 90 days. Failure to do so would prompt the Trump Administration to outright ban the app.

READ MORE: Seattle schools sue TikTok, Meta over mental health concerns

ByteDance subsequently explored a sale of the app to a prospective US-based company. Candidates included Microsoft, Walmart, and Oracle.

The TikTok owner also filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration. This suit proved partially successful, with Judge Carl J. Nichols blocking the divestment order, but allowing separate actions from the Commerce Department to proceed.

Additionally, several TikTok creators filed suit against the administration to prevent any federal ban of the app. TikTok’s viral nature and widespread popularity have created an entire generation of newly-minted Internet celebrities.

A ban would effectively end their careers, or at the very least, significantly hamper them. Again, this action proved successful.

The incoming Biden Administration later overturned the Trump executive order, allowing TikTok to remain a wholly-owned subsidiary of ByteDance. But, it did allow the Commerce Department to continue its investigation.

In his letter, Carr alleged TikTok was in violation of both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store terms of service, and therefore should be banned. It remains to be seen whether Apple or Google will comply.

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Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Past work can be found on The Register, Reason, The Next Web, and Wired.

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