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US Senator calls on Apple and Google to block TikTok

By | Published on Friday 3 February 2023


The political pressure continues to build against TikTok in the US. Now a Senator has written to Apple boss Tim Cook and Google chief Sundar Pichai urging them to remove TikTok from their respective app stores because of national security concerns.

In his letter, Senator Michael Bennet – who last year proposed a Digital Platform Commission Act which would create a federal agency to oversee and regulate the big digital platforms – states that TikTok poses “an unacceptable threat to the national security of the United States”.

The big concern about TikTok in political circles, of course, is its ownership by China’s Bytedance, and allegations that the Chinese government has access to the social media app’s global userbase and user data.

Bennet writes in his letter: “Like most social media platforms, TikTok collects vast and sophisticated data from its users, including faceprints and voiceprints. Unlike most social media platforms, TikTok poses a unique concern because Chinese law obligates Bytedance, its Beijing-based parent company, to ‘support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work'”.

“Beijing’s requirement raises the obvious risk that the Chinese Communist Party could weaponise TikTok against the United States”, he goes on, “specifically, by forcing Bytedance to surrender Americans’ sensitive data or manipulate the content Americans receive to advance China’s interests”.

“These obvious risks render TikTok, in its current form, an unacceptable threat to the national security of the United States”, he adds. “No company subject to CCP dictates should have the power to accumulate such extensive data on the American people or curate content to nearly a third of our population. Given these risks, I urge you to remove TikTok from your respective app stores immediately”.

Bennet’s letter is similar to one sent to the Apple and Google bosses last year by Brendan Carr, a commissioner at US media regulator the Federal Communications Commission. He wrote his letter following a BuzzFeed report about how Bytedance employees in China can access data about TikTok’s American users.

That report is also cited in Bennet’s letter. “Concern about TikTok’s data sharing is not theoretical”, he writes. “Last year, BuzzFeed News revealed that China-based employees repeatedly accessed nonpublic information about US users, contradicting sworn testimony from a TikTok executive to the US Senate. According to a member of TikTok’s Trust And Safety department, cited by BuzzFeed, ‘everything is seen in China'”.

For its part, TikTok continues to deny the allegations made about data security on its platform, with spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter saying yesterday that “Senator Bennet’s letter relies almost exclusively on misleading reporting about TikTok, the data we collect, and our data security controls”.

“It also ignores the considerable investment we have made through Project Texas – a plan negotiated with our country’s top national security experts – to provide additional assurances to our community about their data security and the integrity of the TikTok platform”, she added.

Statements such of those have done little to placate TikTok’s critics in the political community so far, including those in US Congress who last year made proposals that would effectively ban use of the app within the US.

The social media firm’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, is next month due to answer questions in Congress in a session instigated by the Energy And Commerce Committee in the House Of Representatives. It remains to be seen if that results in any allaying of concerns.