FCC’s Carr Says TikTok Should Be Banned from App Stores

TikTok is facing blowback from the Federal Communications Commission, with one member asking Apple and Google to remove the social video platform from their app stores. FCC commissioner Brendan Carr warned in a joint letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai that “TikTok is not what it appears on the surface. It’s not just an app for sharing funny videos and memes,” but a sophisticated surveillance tool “that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.” As a division of China’s ByteDance, TikTok is “required by Chinese law” to share data with the PRC government.

Though technically under communist rule, China has a centralized political system that is often described as authoritarian. Referencing an incendiary BuzzFeed News report that claims to be “based on leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings,” Carr concludes TikTok — which he says was downloaded from the Apple and Google app stores “nearly 19 million times in the first quarter of this year” — presents “an unacceptable national security risk.”

“Everything is seen in China,” Carr wrote, citing a quote BuzzFeed says was made by “a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department” at a September 2021 meeting.

“In another September meeting, a director referred to one Beijing-based engineer as a ‘Master Admin’ who “has access to everything,” including Americans’ birthdays, phone numbers and viewing habits, BuzzFeed wrote in the article titled “The TikTok Tapes.” Carr, who tweeted his letter earlier this week, reminds Cook and Pichai that TikTok’s data harvesting makes it out of “compliance with the policies that both of your companies require … as a condition of remaining on your app stores.”

Carr was appointed to the FCC by vocal TikTok critic Donald Trump in 2017. “Trump tried to force ByteDance to sell the app or face expulsion from app stores in 2020,” writes The New York Times, noting that “at one point, the Trump administration announced a deal in which Oracle” would “take over some of the company,” but the deal wasn’t consummated.

The Biden administration, NYT continues, “has considered other measures to keep American data away from China but has not publicly pushed TikTok to cut ties with its Chinese owner.”

ByteDance is privately funded by investors that include American equity firms KKR and Sequoia Capital and investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. In all, ByteDance has 29 investors that have helped it raise $9.4 billion in 12 funding rounds, according to Crunchbase. Earlier this month, The China Morning Post reported ByteDance’s valuation at about $300 billion, a decline of “$100 billion in one year as IPO plans remain up in the air.”

CNBC writes that “the same day as the BuzzFeed report, TikTok announced that it had migrated its U.S. user data to Oracle cloud servers based in the United States, and that it would eventually be deleting backups of its U.S. user data from its own proprietary servers.” In January 2021, India permanently banned “TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps,” according to Nikkei Asia.

TikTok Tells U.S. Lawmakers It’s Working to Protect User Data from Chinese Employees, CNBC, 7/1/22
TikTok Tells Republican Senators How It Plans to Keep American Data Away from China, The New York Times, 7/1/22