Commissioner Carr reportedly wrote to Apple and Google on Tuesday to make the request, which comes on the heels of a BuzzFeed News report last week that claimed TikTok staff based in China could access U.S. users’ data, despite statements to the contrary made by the company suggesting otherwise.
“As you know TikTok is an app that is available to millions of Americans through your app stores, and it collects vast troves of sensitive data about those US users. TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance — an organization that is beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by the Chinese law to comply with PRC’s surveillance demands,” Carr said in a letter addressed to Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook.
“It is 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.”
TikTok’s user data practices have long been controversial. Former U.S. President Donald Trump signed several executive orders banning apps tied to China during his term. Trump went so far as to seek a ban of the TikTok short video app back in 2020.
As for TikTok parent company ByteDance, it has long claimed that there are no privacy concerns with the TikTok app, by promising that United States users’ data is stored in the U.S., not China, where ByteDance is located.
However, Buzzfeed News recently reported that Chinese TikTok staff members had access to U.S. user data up until January 2022. This is despite testimony given by a TikTok executive under sworn oath in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to U.S. users’ data.
Following the report, TikTok announced that it is moving all U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers situated in the country. The company said that in future it expects to “delete U.S. users’ private data from our own data centers and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the U.S.”
“We’re also making operational changes in line with this work – including the new department we recently established, with US-based leadership, to solely manage US user data for TikTok,” the company added.
Although President Trump’s bans were never enforced due to several court orders that blocked the restrictions. President Trump claimed the apps posed a risk to national security.
President Joe Biden revoked Trump’s executive orders in June 2021. The orders attempted to force ByteDance to sell its U.S. TikTok operations to a U.S. company. Bidean also reversed another executive order that targeted several financial apps, including Alipay and WeChat Pay.
The Biden administration says it is taking an “evidence-based approach” when reviewing the security concerns posed by apps.