TikTok has gone from just one of many entertainment content apps to a pop culture mainstay. Influencers from the short video service are being called upon by the highest levels of government for their aid, it is being used as a disruptor of political rallies, and Addison Rae even showed up on The Tonight Show to demonstrate how awkward TikTok dances are when they are not on Tiktok. However, according to the FCC, the controversial app is also a risk to the very security of the United States and should be discontinued from major app stores.
That is a pretty huge statement and one that needs some clarification. Per MalwareBytesLab, Federal Communications Commission head Brendan Carr has reached out to the heads of major companies Apple and Google to request they remove TikTok from availability from their virtual stores. A letter addressed to the CEOs of Apple and Google stated 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.” Carr went on to reference several highly-publicized incidents in which TikTok user data was allegedly accessed by Chinese governmental bodies as evidence for the risk inherent in the app.
According to the FCC commissioner, TikTok collects “everything” in terms of data, including biometric information, GPS locations, browser histories, and even faceprints. Brendan Carr also went on to allege that ByteDance (the Chinese company that developed TikTok) is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC‘s surveillance demands.” The assumption is that the Chinese government is able to access the data from TikTok at will and can potentially use that for adversarial purposes. The United States military forces have already banned TikTok from being used on government-issued devices and the potential security risks of the app have been addressed in Congress.
However, TikTok has already struck back against the FCC claims. TikTok Head of Public Policy for America Michael Beckerman told CNN that the FCC does not have jurisdiction over national security (which is true) and denied the claims that the app harvests information for use by the Chinese government. Beckerman directly denied the claim that TikTok collects browser histories and faceprints, as well as stating that monitoring of keystrokes was an anti-fraud feature rather than a nefarious data collection. He also stated that Brendan Carr is not an expert in the field of entertainment app security.