There’s no question of TikTok’s popularity. Throughout 2022, TikTok has remained the most downloaded app globally. Videos from the app make their way to the Reels feature on Instagram and Facebook, and even to YouTube’s Shorts. According to one U.S. government official, though, the Chinese government is using it as a surveillance tool. An FCC commissioner has called for Apple and Google both to delete TikTok from their app stores.
Revisiting an Ongoing Concern
In 2020, former president Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the United States if it weren’t sold to an American company. That was when the video sharing app was first described as a threat to national security, owing in large part to service members posting videos from secure parts of military bases.
Trump’s executive order never actually banned TikTok, and President Joe Biden revoked it early in his administration. At the same time, the administration called on the government to more broadly review apps associated with foreign adversaries.
FCC Commissioner Says TikTok Is Dangerous
FCC commissioner Brendan Car recently sent a two-page open letter to both Apple and Google. Carr described TikTok as a way for Chinese authorities to gather data on what’s happening in the U.S. He went on to request the tech giants remove the app from their marketplaces by July 8.
Carr says TikTok is “not what it appears to be on the surface.” He refers to the ability to share funny videos or memes on TikTok as “the sheep’s clothing.” Rather, the official believes TikTok to be a “sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”
Since TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, Carr says the app has to comply with any surveillance demands the Communist Party of China may make. This presents a national security risk, because of the amount of data harvested.
Privacy Concerns Exist, Even If There’s No National Security Threat
Reports have detailed the sort of information TikTok gathers from its users. This extends to much more than just which videos users view, like and post. The app also collects search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers.
For this reason alone, Carr says, TikTok violates the guidelines Apple has for its App Store. Google’s terms and conditions are very similar. For this reason, even if not for the sake of national security, the FCC commissioner says Apple and Google should remove TikTok from their respective app stores.
14 thoughts on “FCC Commissioner Calls on Apple and Google to Delete TikTok From App Stores”
Honeypot, thy name is TikTok.
Give Westerners a fun way to give themselves five seconds of fame, and they’ll give you their bank PIN numbers and access to all their personal data. ‘Just do it quietly so that we can remain in denial’. Out of sight, out of mind.
It’s just the domestic security professionals who need to be worried about what an adversary will do with those data. It’s their job, after all. No matter what risks we take or warnings we ignore.
Good thing that Western governments pay government workers such high salaries and bonuses for every threat they quash that national security agents will never tire of running every threat to the ground.
Ah, the spoils of freedom.
Wow, so cynical. Can’t we just share a laugh, a cute kitten or something we find interesting without it being a twisted desire to support evil? I’d hate to have you diagnose any of my illnesses, it would probably be worse than the illness itself.
Let’s try to keep things civil here, could we? We can disagree on each others’ opinions without making personal attacks like this, calling into question someone’s skill at their profession. Thanks!
I have several friends who share their enjoyment, celebrations and hobbies on TikTok without even a smidgeon of ego involved. This guy’s cynical post trying to make their joy into some kind of narcissistic evil is very offensive.
I didn’t read it that way, but I also know Dr. Brooks fairly well. So, it’s possible my personal relationship with him helps in ways that words alone cannot.
He’s absolutely right, though, that many Westerners ignore the risks to their data security different social media platforms present. Just look at the number of people who do those “Which Hogwarts House are you” apps on Facebook, blithely giving away information that data harvesters could use to steal their identities and even break into their online banking accounts.
I, too, have friends who share on TikTok without a care in the world of stroking their own egos. I also see, almost as a majority, people whose sole goal is to gain more followers, growing their egos and their bank accounts.
The concern I was reporting on, and one Dr. Brooks sees as well, is the possibility of Beijing using the data from Americans (search history, biometric information, etc.) as a way to gather intelligence to use in any conflicts with the US. It’s a real concern, one that I think most average Americans are blind to, and one that ByteDance’s recent insistence that everything is really on the up-and-up doesn’t convince me shouldn’t be worrisome.
@palmac: The issue is neither narcissism nor ego; it’s about social engineering exploits. For the user, these apps are harmless fun. For their designers, it’s a serious business, private or state sponsored.
Social scientists, beginning with psychologists, and now others including epidemiologists have long understood the power of social engineering analyses as a tool to understand and map population-level behaviour and culture. I use this in my own work. The type of realtime data that users provide on apps like TikTok are just the kind of data that, were a scientist conducting a controlled study, would require participant written consent in order to gather, because it is personal.
There are others who have taken these types of analyses to another level, and that is the intelligence community, particularly military intelligence communities with the help of AI, to probe for weaknesses and social fault lines in diverse societies that are already experiencing demographic divisions. The Russians conducted a masterclass on this exploit in 2016 in both Europe (France, UK) and the USA, and exacerbated tensions in the USA they could only have dreamt of in the 1960s at the height of cold-war tensions – all for less than the cost of a single MiG29. Others include China, Iran and North Korea, and there are others.
Their target are free societies because that model is a threat to their authoritarian model. People in free settings do feel safe and free to express themselves in ways that in many countries where I live and work people rightly do not. The goal of these competitors/adversaries is to exploit societal divisions to such an extent that we hobble ourselves by our own internal conflicts without their having fired a single shot, except a cybernetic one. And for that, they need our cooperation.
My point is that while we are free to engage with any activity we wish (free society), we should be aware of hazards, including those highlighted by intelligence professionals. If you don’t have to pay for a service, you’re the product and that participation will have a cost; whether like FB it’s your data for sale, or in the case of a hostile state actor, it’s your elections and social cohesion.
That’s not cynicism, it’s just life in the 21st Century.
I have several friends who share their enjoyment, celebrations and hobbies on TikTok without even a smidgeon of ego involved. This guy’s cynical post trying to make their joy into some kind of narcissistic evil is offensive.
So why doesn’t someone make a better social video app with extensive privacy/anti-surveillance safeguards baked in?
I guess that they would need to find a way of making it profitable without selling user data.
Free to watch, cheap monthly subscription to post, patreon-like crowdfunding support for people you like with “members only” video access, non-intrusive ads but scrubbed of all personal data and with a “Like,” a “More Ryan Reynolds Please” and a “Destroy this business! Burn it to the ground and salt the earth so nothing grows there for hundreds of years!” voting option. Create a subtle face-warping filter for a small extra cost that screws up AI facial recognition but still lets the person look like themselves, or their favorite web comic character (Krosp for me). Bake sales! 3D printed merchandise. Hedge fund market manipulation. FTP games (the not-greedy kind.)
I love everything about this suggestion. Makes me wish I was a better programmer, to be honest…so I could develop this!
Same here. Had a massive burnout (possible stroke) and can’t code for more than ten minutes without getting a big headache. Maybe we could pay someone on fiverr.com to code it? Or come up with a business plan/mission outline and crowdfund it?
Definitely an interesting idea. Sorry to hear about the stroke.
Honestly, I’m so busy as managing editor here, I don’t know I’d be able to give such a project the attention it would need.
Maybe suggest to your writers a three-article research project where:
1) They ask programmers how they would create a new kind of TikTok/social multi-media app with privacy/security/ad tracking assassins built in.
2) They ask money people how to fund and make it self-sufficient, keeping in mind that it isn’t supposed to make anyone a billionaire but it would be nice to rake in enough money to make improvements over time.
3) They ask internet lawyers how to prevent it from becoming evil.