Could TikTok be in for another legal challenge in order to remain in operation in the US?
It seems that the heat could be rising for the app once again, with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr publishing an open letter that calls upon both Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores due to TikTok’s ‘pattern of surreptitious data practices’, which specifically relates to how it shares data with its Chinese parent company.
“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It’s not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. That’s the sheep’s clothing. At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”
Care notes that TikTok tracks a range of data inputs, including search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and other metadata, while it can also access text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard.
Or it could. Back in 2020, with the introduction of iOS 14, TikTok users noted that the app was tracking their Clipboard content, with the new iOS notifiers showing that TikTok was accessing the Clipboard every few seconds. Amid various questions around why it would need to do so, TikTok then said that it would remove from this element from the app – but still, the fact that TikTok was disingenuously sucking in more user data underlined concerns that it is indeed being used to glean maximum insight on its users. And with parent company ByteDance beholden to the CCP, under China’s controversial cybersecurity policies, the concern remains that TikTok could inadvertently be used as a surveillance tool in every market that it operates.
Carr further notes that bipartisan leaders in both the Senate and House have flagged concerns about the app at different times, and says that the case against the app is compelling enough to remove it from the US entirely, either via policy ruling or by Apple and Google cutting it off from their platforms.
The policy route has already been tested, with former President Donald Trump issuing an Executive Order in 2020 that would have forced the sale of the app into US ownership, to alleviate data sharing concerns. Though the legal grounding for that push was never established, and shortly after the 2020 election, incoming President Joe Biden advised his staff to step back from the long-running TikTok challenge – though even then, Biden noted that he held concerns about the app and its systems.
Could those issues be reignited as a result of Carr’s letter?
It definitely seems like the key concerns remain, though TikTok would no doubt have hoped that it had side-stepped this issue by moving its US user data to Oracle servers, which it advised had been completed earlier this month.
Will that be enough to fend off another challenge?
As Trump’s original EO outlined, the key concern is TikTok’s Chinese-ownership, and so long as it remains in its current state, it also remains a security threat, at least to some degree.
This latest push may be just noise, as Carr is calling on others to take action. But it reawakens the looming specter of Chinese spying, which Meta and many others have been pushing as a key reason to rid the US of the app.
I suspect that, with China-US relations remaining tenuous, the Biden administration will be hesitant to take action. But maybe that, in itself, will lead to louder calls to pull the plug on the app.