FCC commissioner urges Apple and Google to remove TikTok from app stores

The ByteDance and TikTok logos displayed on a tablet and smartphone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The head of the FCC has called on Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores over its pattern of surreptitious data practices.

TikTok is available to millions of US citizens and collects vast troves of sensitive data about those users, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr said in a letter sent to chief executives Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai last week, which Carr shared on Twitter yesterday.

In the US, the app has been downloaded from both app stores nearly 19 million times in the first quarter of 2022 alone. Carr underlined that TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, an organisation that is “beholden” to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the government’s surveillance demands.

The commissioner pointed to a Buzzfeed report published last week which revealed that ByteDance officials in Beijing have repeatedly accessed TikTok sensitive data that it has collected from US citizens.

Carr said that it’s 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. He added that due to this, TikTok is out of compliance with the policies that both of the tech giants require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on their app stores.

“Therefore, I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms,” wrote the commissioner.

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Carr wrote that TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data. It collects everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers.

TikTok has said in the past that it would move all US users’ data to Oracle servers situated in the country. It still uses its own US and Singapore-based servers for backup but in the future expects to delete its US users’ private data from its own data centres and only use those provided by Oracle in the US.

Carr said that this move doesn’t address the concerns he has raised, since the company has long claimed that its US user data has been stored on servers in the US and yet this has provided no protection against the data being accessed from Beijing. “Indeed, TikTok’s statement that ‘100% of US server traffic is being routed to Oracle’ says nothing about where that data can be accessed from,” he added.

IT Pro has contacted Apple, Google, and TikTok for comment.

Zach Marzouk

Zach Marzouk is a former ITPro, CloudPro, and ChannelPro staff writer, covering topics like security, privacy, worker rights, and startups, primarily in the Asia Pacific and the US regions. Zach joined ITPro in 2017 where he was introduced to the world of B2B technology as a junior staff writer, before he returned to Argentina in 2018, working in communications and as a copywriter. In 2021, he made his way back to ITPro as a staff writer during the pandemic, before joining the world of freelance in 2022.