Until July 8, both businesses must react.
The American government and TikTok are once again at odds with one another. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr ordered Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet (Google) CEO Sundar Pichai to remove the social network video app from their respective app stores in a letter that was uploaded to Twitter(opens in new tab).
Carr warns that if they don’t get rid of the app by July 8, they’ll have to give a justification for why it doesn’t break any app store rules.
Apple, Google, and TikTok have been contacted, but as of right now, none have issued an official statement. If we get a comment on this story, we’ll update it.
TikTok tension: Why is it happening now?
On June 17, BuzzFeed(opens in new tab) published a story charging ByteDance, the main company of TikTok, of misrepresenting how it handled user data from Americans. According to testimony given in October 2021 by a ByteDance executive, a U.S.-based security team would be the only ones allowed to access user data from Americans.
However, BuzzFeed discovered evidence that implies that from September 2021 to January 2022, engineers in China were in charge of this U.S. user data. This could be problematic since the Chinese government could access any data stored in China. In a response to CNN, TikTok called the BuzzFeed article “misleading” (opens in new tab).
In his letter to Apple and Alphabet, Carr directly refers to this report. He continues by calling TikTok “a severe national security concern” and citing a number of instances where the app may have gone outside the terms of service of Apple and Google’s respective app stores.
The BuzzFeed article was released the same day that TikTok declared that “all US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.” While the traffic is being sent to Oracle servers, Carr recognizes this in his letter and notes that there is no assurance that the data on those servers cannot be accessed from other locations, including Beijing.
TikTok tension: What happened last time the US government stepped in?
It’s no coincidence that the turmoil between TikTok and the US government sounds familiar. Former President Donald Trump made an effort to compel ByteDance to withdraw from TikTok’s American activities back in 2020. As a result, there were rumors of sales to both Oracle and Microsoft, both of which ultimately fell through.
This attempt to remove ByteDance from TikTok in the United States ultimately yielded no notable results. It did, however, mark the beginning of the collaboration between ByteDance and Oracle that resulted in the storage of TikTok user data from the United States on cloud servers.
TikTok tension: How does this impact users?
The popular social media video app’s American users won’t be impacted by this for the time being. What power, if any, the FCC has to control what appears on app stores is unclear. Furthermore, there has been no indication from FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel that the other members of the commission will back Carr’s initiatives.
However, both this letter and the BuzzFeed article do emphasize the necessity for users to exercise caution when deciding what information they post or keep private on the internet and social media. Although the Chinese government’s access to the data of American users is indeed alarming, there are additional dangers that users of the internet must constantly be aware of. We previously discussed a Vice piece from just over a month ago that detailed how easy it is to buy smartphone location data (opens in new tab).
If TikTok, Apple, or Google have any comments, we’ll update this story.