A Trump appointee wants to ban TikTok

The app is a security risk because of its ties to the Chinese government, says FCC commissioner Brendan Carr.

TikTok app logo on the App Store is seen with TikTok logo displayed in the background in this illust...
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The Federal Communications Commission wants TikTok banned from the United States. Well, kind of. One member of the five-person panel — Brendan Carr, an appointee of former President Donald Trump — sent a letter to Apple and Google urging the companies to remove TikTok from their respective app stores over concerns regarding the company’s relationship with the Chinese government.

According to Carr, TikTok only appears to be an app for sharing videos and participating in trends that last like three days and that only people under 17 years old fully understand. That, he claims, is “sheep’s clothing” covering up the fact that TikTok is a “sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

To back this, Carr cites no new evidence nor the findings of an FCC investigation, but instead a report from BuzzFeed News that found that TikTok’s U.S. operation have struggled to distance itself from the app’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance. The report alleges that employees in China have been able to access American user data through backdoors installed in the app. This, despite promises that TikTok would store all data from U.S. users domestically and wouldn’t allow access to the company’s Chinese arm.

Carr’s concerns about TikTok’s practices are legitimate, and users of the app should indeed be aware of the fact that their data may be accessed and used by a massive corporation for any number of purposes, including possibly being shared with the Chinese government. But also, it’s kinda rich that this is a problem simply because TikTok’s parent company is based in China.

I mean, just take a look at the companies that Carr is urging to ban TikTok! Google collects a massive amount of data from people and happily shares that information with the government — and does so with such regularity that law enforcement agencies basically treat Google like a digital dragnet. Apple also complies with government data requests most of the time. Both companies have also shown a willingness to do anything the Chinese government wants in order to set up shop within the country’s borders, including Apple regularly kowtowing to the Chinese government’s whims and Google building a censored search engine specifically to meet the government’s strict demands.

Carr hasn’t had a whole lot to say about this. In fact, he doesn’t really seem to have that much of a problem with governments intervening in how businesses operate; he went so far as to voice his support for an executive order signed by Trump that sought to regulate social media platforms so they could no longer issue fact checks on his factually incorrect statements. Experts called the executive order “deluded,” but Carr called it “really welcome news.”

Are TikTok’s privacy issues concerning? Absolutely. Moreso than any other app, including plenty of American-based ones that are regularly sucking up tons of information about people and have been used for abusive purposes and to snoop on people in the past? Probably not. Carr might want to mention those issues in his next letter, particularly seeing as he’s part of an agency that actually has the power to regulate those companies that are headquartered in this country.