07 Dec According to the FCC, TikTok is an “unacceptable security risk” and should be removed from app stores
Brendan Carr, an FCC commissioner, has called on the CEOs of Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their respective app shops. Carr wrote Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai in a letter dated June 24, 2022 that “TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk owing to its vast data collection paired with Beijing’s presumably unregulated access to such sensitive data.”
Carr went on to say:
But it is also clear that TikTok’s pattern of behavior and misrepresentations regarding the unrestricted access that persons in Beijing have to sensitive US user data… puts it in violation of the policies that both of your companies require every app to adhere to in order to remain available on your app stores.
As a result, I am demanding that you apply TikTok to the plain language of your app store rules and remove it from your app shops for failing to comply with those requirements.
Carr mentioned the national security dangers TikTok posed in the Twitter chat.
Excessive data gathering
TikTok is reported to gather “everything,” including search and browser history, keyboard patterns, biometric identifiers (including faceprints and voiceprints), location data, draft messages, metadata, and material stored on the clipboard, including text, photos, and videos.
Carr mentioned many incidences as proof that TikTok’s data harvesting tactics were questionable.
Link between TikTok and the Communist Party of China
TikTok was created by ByteDance, a Beijing-based firm, in collaboration with the CCP. It is known as Douyin in China. In his letter to Apple and Google, Carr stated that ByteDance “is beholden to the Communist Party of China and is compelled by Chinese law to cooperate with the PRC’s monitoring requests.”
This has been raised as a worry by Senate and House committee members, cybersecurity researchers, privacy and civil rights organizations, and others. TikTok was dubbed a “possible counterintelligence danger we cannot ignore” by two senators in 2019. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is likewise worried about the “vague” regulations of the social network, particularly in terms of collecting and exploiting biometric data.
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Uncertain use of obtained data
Collecting data is not a problem for applications that make it apparent that they are doing so, but they must also state how they intend to utilize the data they acquire. TikTok does not appear to be one of the apps that violates this restriction.
“Numerous aspects of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store regulations are pertinent to TikTok’s history of shady data practices—a pattern that contradicts their repeated assertions,” the letter states.
“For example, Section 5.1.2(i) of the Apple App Store Review Guidelines stipulates that an app developer “must offer access to information about how and where an individual’s data will be utilized” and that “[d]ata gathered through applications may only be shared with third parties to enhance the app or to deliver ads.”
Is TikTok a “high-tech monitoring tool”?
TikTok did not sit on its hands when the FCC requested that it be removed from major app stores.
Speaking with CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s VP, Head of Public Policy, Americas, rejected a substantial portion of the FCC’s charges against the social media business, arguing that Carr isn’t an expert on such subjects and that the FCC has jurisdiction over national security.
“He’s pointing out a lot of instances where the information we’re gathering is just wrong, and we’re pleased to put the record right,” Beckerman said.
When confronted about the errors in Carr’s statements, Beckerman said, “He mentions collecting browser history, as if we’re monitoring you throughout the internet.” That is just incorrect. A handful of social networking applications do this without verifying your browsing history across other apps. TikTok does not operate in this manner.”
“He’s talking about faceprints—not that’s something we gather,” he explained, clarifying that the technology in their app isn’t for identifying individuals, but for filters like understanding when to place glasses or a hat on a face/head.
“It’s not tracking what you’re typing,” Beckerman said of keystroke patterns. It is an anti-fraud measure that monitors the rhythm of individuals typing to guarantee it is not a bot o another malicious activity
When asked if the CCP had seen any non-public user data, he responded, “We have never given information with the Chinese government and would never do so in the future. We have US-based security teams who control access and the app, and as genuine national security institutions like the CIA reminded out during the Trump administration, the data available on TikTok is not of national security concern because it is an entertainment app.”
For years, politicians and privacy experts have chastised TikTok for possibly transmitting US user data to China. To ease concerns, TikTok partnered with Oracle and began routing data from its American customers to servers in the United States.
This, however, does not address some of the concerns expressed by Buzzfeed News’ report concerning TikTok personnel in China “repeatedly” accessing US customer data for at least several months. Such instances are said to have occurred between September 2021 and January 2022, months before Oracle’s data rerouting.
A member of TikTok’s trust and safety department is also accused of saying at a meeting, “Everything is viewed in China.” In another meeting, a director allegedly said that a colleague in China is a “Master Admin” with “access to everything.”
During the CNN interview, Beckerman stated, “We want to be trusted.” “Obviously, there is a lack of trust across the Internet right now, and for us, we’re striving for the top, trying to be one of the most trusted applications, and we’re addressing queries and being as open as we can.”