TikTok Once Again Faces Risk of Permanent Ban From US App Stores

Melisa Yuriar

2 min read

TikTok Once Again Faces Risk of Permanent Ban From US App Stores

Less than two years ago, former President Trump issued ByteDance-owned platform TikTok with an executive order to cease operations in the US after unsuccessfully banning US citizens and businesses from issuing any “transactions” with the platform, primarily citing “data privacy” concerns.

Last summer, President Biden rescinded the orders to Trump’s chagrin and plenty of celebration from US TikTok users. However, in an unforeseen 360 turn of events, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr called for immediate removal of the app from both the Google Play and Apple App stores.

The commissioner took to Twitter to air his grievances in an open letter on June 28. In it, he addressed Google—now Alphabet—CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook to formally request the app be withdrawn from their digital storefronts.

The letter mirrored many of the former president Trump administration’s privacy qualms about the app. It was shared a week after Buzzfeed unveiled its findings post-review of leaked audio from over 80 internal TikTok meetings. The audio showed that TikTok engineers in China repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users between September 2021 and as recently as January 2022.

Carr’s open letter rehashes much of the article’s findings and explicitly addresses the CEOs, adding, “Tiktok’s pattern of conduct and misrepresentations regarding the unfettered access that person’s in Beijing have to sensitive US user data…puts it out of compliance with the policies that both of your companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on your app stores.

“At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” continues Carr. “...TikTok collects everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints—which researchers have said might be used in unrelated facial recognition technology—and voiceprints. It collects location data as well as draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images and videos that are stored on the device’s clipboard. The list of personal and sensitive data collected goes on from there. This should come as no surprise, however. Within its own borders, the PRC has developed some of the most invasive and omnipresent surveillance capabilities in the world to maintain authoritarian control,” claims Carr, presenting his case for removing the app.

The commissioner then followed by addressing Apple and Google’s oft claims to operate their app stores in a manner that “protects consumer privacy and safeguard their data” and requested they apply their App Store policy to the app and promptly remove TikTok from the digital storefronts for failing to comply with their policies.

If the tech juggernauts don’t abide by Carr’s suggestion to eliminate the app from their app stores, the commissioner has requested tech CEOs separately respond to him with their reasoning on why “the surreptitious access of private and sensitive US user data by persons located in Beijing coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct does not run afoul of any of [Apple and Google’s] App Store policies.”

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