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U.S. communications regulator wants TikTok removed from app stores over spying concerns | CBC News

A commissioner with the U.S. communications regulator is asking Apple and Google to consider banning TikTok from their app stores over data security concerns related to the Chinese-owned company.

Brendan Carr, a commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has written a letter to the CEOs of both companies, alerting them that the wildly popular video-sharing app does not comply with the requirements of their app store policies.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” Carr said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

“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.”

In the letter, Carr lists multiple instances of the company running afoul of various privacy and data security laws around the world. He’s asking Google and Apple to remove the ability to use the app on their phones. 

If they refuse to do so by July 8, he’s demanding a response from them explaining “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies.”

The letter comes after U.S. news outlet Buzzfeed reported last week that data on U.S. users has been repeatedly accessed by entities in mainland China. TikTok subsequently announced that it plans “to delete U.S. users’ private data from our own data centres and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the U.S.,” the company said. 

‘Unfettered access’ to data

John Zabiuk, chair of the cybersecurity program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, says that move to domicile the servers in the U.S. may seem like an easy fix, but it doesn’t address the root of the problem.

“The problem is who still has access to that data? It’s still TikTok,” he told CBC in an interview, adding that if the company has access to the data, it’s safe to assume the Chinese government does, too.

“It is an extremely dangerous application,” he said. ” It captures so much personal information about users and the data gets stored in a lot of cases in mainland China where the government has unfettered access.”

It is not the first time that the company has come under fire in the U.S. for its links to the Chinese government. Former U.S. president Donald Trump railed repeatedly against the company, going as far as trying to ban the company via executive order.

WATCH | Trump trying to ban TikTok and WeChat in the U.S.:

Trump’s TikTok, WeChat ban on hold

Chinese-based company ByteDance is looking to make a deal with Oracle and Walmart, but the arrangement might fall short of what U.S. President Donald Trump demanded of the company.

That led to talks between U.S. companies including Oracle, Microsoft and even Walmart about buying the company, but those talks fell apart after legal challenges, and then the plan was shelved by the incoming Biden administration, which ordered a national security review of the app, which is ongoing. As recently as last week, six Republican senators asked the Treasury Department for an update on how that review is proceeding.

Zabiuk says it certainly looks like the app runs afoul of Google and Apple’s own rules for apps because of the way it is built.

“They can make changes to the code and every time you launch the app … it may be doing different things,” he said.

If the push is successful, it won’t even be the first time TikTok has been banned from a country. India banned the app in 2020, on national security concerns.




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