US communications regulator wants TikTok removed from app stores over spying concerns


A U.S. communications regulator commissioner is asking Apple and Google to consider banning TikTok from their app stores over data security concerns linked to the Chinese company.

Brendan Carr, a commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has written a letter to the CEOs of both companies, warning them that the wildly popular video-sharing app does not comply with the requirements of their store policies. apps.

“TikTok isn’t what it seems on the surface. It’s not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. It’s sheepskin,” Carr said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests vast amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data collection combined with Beijing’s seemingly uncontrolled access to this sensitive data.”

In the letter, Carr lists several instances where the company violates various privacy and data security laws around the world. He asks Google and Apple to remove the ability to use the app on their phones.

If they refuse to do so by July 8, it asks for a response explaining “the basis for your company’s conclusion that surreptitious access to US users’ private and sensitive data by individuals located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s misleading representations and conduct scheme, does not violate any of your app store’s policies.”

The letter comes after US outlet Buzzfeed reported last week that US user data had been repeatedly accessed by entities in mainland China. TikTok later announced that it plans “to remove US users’ private data from our own data centers and completely switch to Oracle cloud servers located in the US,” the company said.

China has ‘unfettered access’ to data

John Zabiuk, chair of the cybersecurity program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, says moving servers to the United States may seem like an easy fix, but it doesn’t solve the root of the problem.

“The problem is who still has access to that data? It’s still TikTok,” he told CBC in an interview, noting that if the company has access to the data, it’s safe to assume that the Chinese government has it as well.

“It captures so much personal user information and the data is stored in many cases in mainland China where the government has unrestricted access.”

This isn’t the first time the company has come under fire in the United States for its ties to the Chinese government. Former US President Donald Trump has repeatedly spoken out against the company, going so far as to attempt to ban it by executive order.

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Chinese company ByteDance is seeking a deal with Oracle and Walmart, but the arrangement may not match what US President Donald Trump has demanded of the company.

This led to talks between US companies such as Oracle, Microsoft and even Walmart about buying the company, but those talks fell through after legal challenges and the plan was later scrapped by the new Biden administration. who ordered a national security review of the app, which is ongoing.

Just last week, six Republican senators asked the Treasury Department for an update on how that review was going.

If the push is successful, it won’t even be the first time TikTok has been banned from a country. India banned the app in 2020, citing national security concerns. And Australia is currently considering doing the same.

Zabiuk says it certainly looks like the app goes against Google and Apple’s own rules for apps because of the way it’s built.

“They can make changes to the code and each time you launch the app…it can do different things,” he said.

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TikToker says it would be hard to leave

Danielle Ryan, a Vancouver-based content producer, says TikTok has helped her business grow by leaps and bounds in ways that wouldn’t be possible on other platforms.

“It’s part of my livelihood”

Despite these worries, TikTok user Danielle Ryan says it would take a long time for her to stop using the app, as she quickly went from just a bit of silly fun to a full-time job in as a content creator.

“I started TikTok almost two years ago now, just as a joke really, and then it escalated very quickly into something much bigger, and now it’s part of my livelihood,” Ryan said. to CBC News in an interview.

Ryan, who lives in Vancouver, has used other social media channels to promote previous ventures, including a yoga studio, but has never managed to expand his reach beyond a certain threshold.

It wasn’t until she started creating TikToks to grow her business that she found a growing and engaged following of small business owners looking for help.

Now she runs a coaching service for small business owners, and she says she’s “entirely dependent” on TikTok to find and serve her clients.

“Changing would be like essentially starting over,” she said. “The potential for business growth is very different on TikTok compared to any other social media app that’s out there right now.”

Canada would likely follow US ban: expert

TikTok is not the only Chinese-controlled company to have been criticized for its data security. Earlier this summer, Canada banned Chinese telecom component maker Huawei from being installed on 5G networks in Canada.

The rationale for this decision was the same one cited in the TikTok case: national security.

Government officials allege that because of its ties to the Chinese regime, giving Huawei access to sensitive communications networks in Canada poses a security risk.

Zabiuk says if the United States decides to ban TikTok, Canada will likely follow suit.

“It’s an extremely popular app and it would bother a lot of people [but] if we look at the architecture and the way it works, it’s an extremely dangerous application,” he said.

CBC has contacted the Department of Canadian Heritage, which governs the telecommunications regulator, the CRTC, and Canadian representatives of TikTok for comment. These requests were not returned.

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