The US government has had its sights set on services and providers from China for some time now. After Huawei, the focus is now on the popular service TikTok. Accordingly, the app could soon disappear from the app stores.
Huawei already landed on the US “blacklist” in 2019. The company has not yet recovered from the trade embargo that was imposed as a result. Google apps are still not allowed to be installed on Huawei’s smartphones. A similar ban, albeit of a different kind, could also affect TikTok. Initial voices are calling for the app to disappear from the app stores.
FCC calls for ban of TikTok
Users distribute short videos via TikTok. The app, developed in China, is especially popular with young users worldwide. But according to an employee of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), Google and Apple should remove TikTok from the Play Store and App Store. The reason: the app is a very “sophisticated surveillance tool” of the Chinese government. In short, the application would allow operators to monitor users worldwide. The FCC employee is therefore calling for a ban on TikTok.
This is not the first time such a ban has been on the table. The US government already dealt with the app in detail in 2020 and demanded a download ban to prevent its distribution. There was even speculation about Microsoft buying TikTok. According to this, there were already first negotiations. In the end, however, it became silent about the USA-TikTok file. The app has not disappeared from the app stores either. A US judge put a stop to the ban on TikTok back then.
Not just a video app, but sheep’s clothing
Two years later, voices from the U.S. are speaking out again, calling for a ban on TikTok. They express concerns about data privacy as well as freedom of expression. According to the report, the Chinese government would force the app’s operators to delete critical posts. Brendan Carr of the FCC therefore calls TikTok “not just another video app. It’s sheepskin.”
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
Carr backs up his statement with a report pointing to previous cases in which TikTok allegedly spied on users’ data. According to the report, the app could bypass Android and iOS security measures to access users’ sensitive data. He also cited TikTok’s decision in 2021 to pay $92 million to settle a lawsuit. At the time, TikTok faced dozens of lawsuits, mostly from minors, who accused the company of collecting personal data without consent and selling it to advertisers. With this in mind, Carr has therefore asked Apple and Google to remove the app from stores by July 8 at the latest, or alternatively provide an explanation as to why they won’t do so.
No response from Google and Apple so far
Meanwhile, the two tech giants are keeping a low profile. Neither Google nor Apple has yet issued a statement on the demanded ban of TikTok. Unlike Huawei and the first wave in 2020, the demand to remove TikTok from the app stores does not come from the US president this time, but from a single FCC employee. He alone signed the letter. The impact of the demand is therefore comparatively low.
TikTok itself is aware of the criticism of the platform and knows about the requested ban. It therefore wants to do everything it can to dispel any doubts about the security of U.S. user data. “That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defenses,” the app’s operators said.
Whether the FCC will actually follow through with its ban on TikTok remains to be seen. The statement at least started the next chapter in the book.