Brendan Carr, commissioner of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), has called out the popular Chinese-based social media giant for what he describes as an “unacceptable security risk“. In a letter to Google and Apple CEOs, Mr. Carr has requested that the app be removed from their respective app stores because “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“.
It is clear that TikTok’s pattern of conduct and misrepresentations regarding the unfettered access that persons in Beijing have sensitive US user data puts it out of compliance with the policies that both of your companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on your app stores.
Therefore, I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms ~ <source>
Brendan Carr goes on to claim that TikTok “harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers – including faceprints and voiceprints – location data, draft messages, metadata, and data stored on the clipboard, including text, images, and videos. He then cites a number of incidents as evidence of TikTok’s dubious data practices.
TikTok executive, Michael Beckerman (head of public policy, Americas), in a rare interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources“, claimed there are no security concerns linked to the hugely successful app. “He [Brendan Carr] is pointing out a number of areas that are simply false in terms of information that we’re collecting, and we’re happy to set the record straight,” Beckerman said.
When questioned about the false claims, Beckerman responded: “He’s mentioning we’re collecting browser history, like we’re tracking you across the internet. That’s simply false. It is something that a number of social media apps do, where they’re checking your browser history across other apps. That is not something that TikTok does.”
“He’s talking about faceprints, that is not something we collect,” he said, explaining that the technology in their app does not identify individuals but is merely for the purpose of applying filters, such as knowing where to place funny glasses or a hat on a face or head.
Regarding keystroke patterns, Beckerman said, “It’s not logging what you’re typing. It’s an anti-spam/anti-fraud measure that checks the rhythm of the way people are typing to ensure it’s not a bot or some other malicious activity.”
When asked if any CCP member has ever seen any non-public user data, he said, “We have never shared information with the Chinese government nor would we. We have US-based security teams that manage access, manage the app, and, as actual national security agencies like the CIA during the Trump administration pointed out, the data that’s available on TikTok – because it’s an entertainment app – is not of national security importance ~ <source>
The responses from Michael Beckerman remind me of the old political adage that a survey can elicit whatever response the author requires simply by manipulating the questions. In other words, data collection can be explained away with seemingly innocuous reasoning that, on the surface, sounds quite reasonable but the truth may be a different matter entirely. I guess we wait and see.
One thing I will say is that, in my opinion, unfettered use of social media, in general, represents the greatest threat to an individual’s privacy.
What do you think? Share your thoughts via the comments.