US FCC calls TikTok “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” Asks Apple and Google to Ban it from App Stores

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TikTok is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. That’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said a leader of the US Federal Communications Commission. Citing so, he urged Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores by emphasizing over China-related data security concerns.     

Failure to Abide by Store Policies 

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is vehemently urging Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their respective app stores. The agency’s senior Republican sent an open letter to company CEOs Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai dated June 24, asking them to ban the popular video sharing app from their app stores. He further reasoned the ban saying TikTok’s “failure to abide by” store policies.   

Ban from Apple and Google store
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said TikTok is a national security threat.
CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Img

Citing a report that officials at TikTok parent company ByteDance in Beijing repeatedly accessed sensitive data collected from US users, Carr claims the popular platform “is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes.” “That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he wrote. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” including search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, and biometric identifiers.   

TikTok’s History of US Scrutinies 

The globally popular short video app TikTok is owned by a Chinese company ByteDance. In the past, the app has faced US scrutiny during Donald Trump’s presidential rule. Carr shared glimpses of the open letter via Twitter, addressed to Cook and Pichai. The letter further pointed to reports and other developments that made TikTok non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies.   

Carr’s letter further cited if Apple and Alphabet do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8. The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.   

TikTok’s ‘Master Admin’ and ‘Access to Everything in China’  

Carr’s letter cited a BuzzFeed News report from earlier in the month that said recordings of TikTok employee statements indicated engineers in China had access to U.S. data between September 2021 and January 2022. Buzzfeed News’ bombshell report detailed leaked audio recordings from dozens of meetings that suggested Beijing-based ByteDance had greater access to US user data than previously known. The Chinese employees were reportedly capable of accessing data from at least September 2021 through January.  

The report cited audio from a September 2021 meeting in which a TikTok director referred to an unnamed ByteDance engineer in China as a “master admin” who “has access to everything.” In another meeting, a worker in TikTok’s Trust and Safety department purportedly said that “everything is seen in China.” It said: “We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data. That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defences.”  

On June 17, the same day as the BuzzFeed report, TikTok announced it was routing all of U.S. user traffic to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, and was moving U.S. users’ private data from its own data centers in the U.S. and Singapore to Oracle cloud servers in the U.S.  

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Anwesha Mishra

Anwesha has been a creative writer for a while. Currently, on her pursuit of tech writing, she is diving into the realms of technology to produce better content on the forever-changing world of technology. In her free time, you’ll find her humming tunes of her favourite shows or reading a book.

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