The CEOs of Apple and Google, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, respectively, have received a letter from Democratic senator from Colorado Michael Bennet pleading with them to ban TikTok from their app stores because of security concerns. TikTok is “an unacceptable threat to the national security of the United States,” according to Bennet, a senator and member of the intelligence committee.
Bennet makes the same arguments in his letter that have led to the federal government and more than half of US states banning TikTok from their official networks and devices. The senator raised concerns that China would use its national security legislation to compel ByteDance, TikTok’s parent business, or both to hand up the personal data of US users. Bennet issued a warning that China might influence what US users view on the app, which could have repercussions for democracy and foreign policy. In his article, he stated that “We should accept the very real possibility that [China] could compel TikTok, via ByteDance, to use its influence to advance Chinese government interests, for example, by modifying its algorithm to present Americans with content to undermine U.S. democratic institutions or muzzle criticisms” of China’s actions in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or with ethnic minorities.
TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter responded to Bennet’s letter, saying it is “almost exclusively based on misleading reporting about TikTok, the data we collect, and our data security controls” and ignores the significant investment TikTok has made through “Project Texas,” which was negotiated with leading national security experts to give additional assurances to the community about data security and the integrity of the platform.
In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to give testimony to a House committee regarding the company’s data security procedures. Security experts have cautioned that there is a chance of surveillance or manipulation by China even though there is no proof of such activity. In order to address concerns about national security, TikTok has consistently denied that it would ever provide the Chinese government access to user data from the US and has taken steps to isolate its US operations from the rest of its business.
Numerous legislation to outlaw TikTok from all US devices, including personal ones, have been presented by Congress in recent months. Some officials have even urged Apple and Google to voluntarily remove the app from their app stores. Federal Communications Commission commissioner Brendan Carr urged the businesses in a letter last year to de-list TikTok. Because of concerns about data collecting, the FCC has taken action to ban Chinese companies from the US market, including Huawei and ZTE.
Despite being prominent members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and vocal opponents of TikTok, Mark Warner of Virginia and Marco Rubio of Florida were not asked to sign Bennet’s letter. While Warner has stated he would want to see a law targeting a larger category of apps, Rubio is the author of one of the proposals attempting to ban TikTok from the United States.