Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn is continuing her call for action against popular social media company TikTok.
Now that push for action has new support following comments from the Federal Communications Commission calling on tech companies Google and Apple to remove the application from their app stores.
As previously reported, in 2019, Blackburn sent a letter of concerns to former TikTok CEO Alex Zhu, regarding the Chinese-based company's data collection and privacy practices, an issue that resulted in a $5.7 million settlement in 2019 following an Federal Trade Commission investigation involving the collection of data of minors in the U.S.
“TikTok is China’s best detective, surreptitiously collecting and sharing user data, tracking American tweens and teenagers and manipulating children’s online purchases,” Blackburn wrote in the 2019 letter. “Children are vulnerable to being solicited to buy and send emojis in exchange for favors, such as live video chats and giving out personal phone numbers, without parental permission. This has become a disturbingly popular trend.”
Earlier this month, Buzzfeed News reported that Chinese-based employees of TikTok’s parent company ByteDance have repeatedly accessed data from U.S. TikTok accounts, admissions that they said were audio recorded during company meetings and confirmed by multiple TikTok employees.
The fear for some is that this user data, which could include everything from personal user data, location data and and facial recognition used by the app that features music and augmented reality filters, is not just with a Chinese company, but possibly accessible and exploitable by the Chinese government.
“Ultimately, the tapes suggest that the company may have misled lawmakers, its users and the public by downplaying that data stored in the US could still be accessed by employees in China,” Buzzfeed wrote.
In 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban new downloads of the social media platform but that order was never actually implemented, eventually being revoked by sitting President Joe Biden.
TikTok is not just another video app.That’s the sheep’s clothing.It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing.I’ve called on @Apple & @Google to remove TikTok from their app stores for its pattern of surreptitious data practices. pic.twitter.com/Le01fBpNjn— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) June 28, 2022
Last week, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote a letter to Google and Apple’s CEO’s alluding to the app and its parent company as being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and calling for the removal of the app.
“At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” Carr said in the letter, adding to the growing voices of concern that the social media platform is a national security issue.
In response to Buzzfeed News’ reporting, Blackburn wrote a new letter on Monday to current TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew demanding answers about these new allegations of exploitations of American’s data.
“We are very concerned that, in light of these reports, TikTok’s representative did not provide truthful or forthright answers to the Senate Commerce Committee at its subcommittee hearing," Blackburn wrote. "It appears that TikTok is now taking steps to deflect from its knowing misrepresentations by changing the way in which 'protected' data can be accessed by its employees."
“The implications of these findings are stark, but not surprising. Rather, they simply confirm what lawmakers long suspected about TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance — they are using their access to a treasure trove of U.S. consumer data to surveil Americans. And this unfortunately extends beyond consumer data into the national security space. According to a recent article in Task & Purpose, despite a military ban on using TikTok on government-issued devices, the app is widely popular with servicemembers who use it on their personal devices.”
Buzzfeed News reported that TikTok, who has billions of users around the world, did not respond to a request for comment on their story.