Popular video sharing app TikTok is a wolf in “sheep’s clothing” that should be removed from the Apple and Google app stores, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in an open letter on Tuesday.
Carr, the Federal Communications Commission’s senior Republican member, called for the ban in a letter dated June 24 and addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Carr’s letter made heavy reference to a recent report detailing leaked audio from internal meetings among American TikTok employees revealing that China-based employees of parent company ByteDance had regular and sweeping access to nonpublic US user data.
Carr likened TikTok’s video- and meme-sharing features to “sheep’s clothing” meant to distract from questionable privacy practices.
“At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” Carr wrote. “Indeed, TikTok collects everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints…and voiceprints.”
“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,” Carr wrote in the letter, which was posted to his Twitter account.
“Therefore, I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms,” Carr added.
The Post has reached out to Apple and Google for comment.
TikTok is not just another video app.
That’s the sheep’s clothing.
It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing.
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 28, 2022
Buzzfeed News’ bombshell report detailed leaked audio recordings from dozens of meetings that suggested Beijing-based ByteDance had greater access to US user data than previously known. The Chinese employees were reportedly capable of accessing data from at least September 2021 through January.
The report cited audio from a September 2021 meeting in which a TikTok director referred to an unnamed ByteDance engineer in China as a “master admin” who “has access to everything.” In another meeting, a worker in TikTok’s Trust and Safety department purportedly said that “everything is seen in China.”
Hours before the Buzzfeed report surfaced, TikTok announced that it had migrated US user data to servers run by Oracle. The company said it has a strong commitment to protecting the privacy of its US users.
TikTok declined to comment on Carr’s letter. A company spokesperson referred The Post to its past response to Buzzfeed’s report.
“We employ access controls like encryption and security monitoring to secure user data, and the access approval process is overseen by our US-based security team,” the spokesperson said.
“TikTok has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the US, including China, can be granted access to US user data on an as-needed basis under those strict controls,” the spokesperson added.
The FCC commissioner countered that TikTok’s collaboration with Oracle “does not address the concerns raised here” and does not clarify whether China-based workers will still be able to access the data.
Carr called on Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores by July 8 or provide statements to him explaining why the app does not violate their policies.
TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps, with more than 1 billion active users worldwide. In his letter, Carr cited statistics stating the app was downloaded from the Apple and Google stores nearly 19 million in the first quarter of FCC commissioner wants TikTok banned from Apple, Google stores 2022 alone.
Carr has emerged as a sharp critic of Big Tech firms in recent months. In April, he slammed Cook for delivering a speech in which he railed against the exploitation of technology to infringe on consumer rights while continuing to do business in China, where the government is accused of sweeping human rights violations including mass surveillance.