Allegations Against TikTok In US Suggest Modi Govt's Fears Were Not Unfounded Against The App

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has gone from just one of many entertainment content apps to a pop culture mainstay
TikTok mobile app displayed on a smartphone
TikTok mobile app displayed on a smartphone

Controversial app TikTok is under the scanner yet again, and the allegations against the short video service are familiar, too.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has gone from just one of many entertainment content apps to a pop culture mainstay. However, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the app is also a risk to the very security of the United States and should be discontinued from major app stores.

About two years ago, TikTok, along with 50 other apps were banned in India by the Modi government as they were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of state and public order.”

This came shortly after a clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh.

The app has been controversial several times and different countries have debated the risk it poses.  

Why FCC Is Demanding TikTok’s Removal?

Federal Communications Commission head Brendan Carr has reached out to the heads of Apple and Google to request they remove TikTok from availability in 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.”

According to the FCC commissioner, TikTok collects “everything” in terms of data, including biometric information, GPS locations, browser histories, and even faceprints.

Carr also went on to allege that its parent company ByteDance is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC‘s surveillance demands.”

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 Head of Public Policy for America Michael Beckerman has denied the claims that the app harvests information for use by the Chinese government.

TikTok recently routed the information of American users to U.S.-based servers, and Michael Beckerman stated that they do not share information with the Chinese government and “never would.”

Is TikTok A “Surveillance Tool”?

TikTok's global chief security officer (CSO) Roland Cloutier will step down from his role and shift to a strategic advisory position. Kim Albarella, head of the security risk, vendor, and client assurance, will temporarily take his place.

Cloutier's removal comes as TikTok deals with the fallout of a recent controversy that erupted after the platform's CEO admitted that its China-based employees have access to American user data.

According to the FCC commissioner, TikTok is said to collect “everything”, from search and browsing histories; keystroke patterns; biometric identifiers—including faceprints, something that might be used in “unrelated facial recognition technology”, and voiceprints—location data; draft messages; metadata; and data stored on the clipboard, including text, images, and videos.

TikTok has been under pressure from US officials over whether Americans’ private data gathered through the app could be handed over to the authoritarian regime in China -- something TikTok has said it would never do.

Former President Donald Trump tried to ban the app and forced ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US business over what he claimed were security risks. The action was challenged in court and Biden revoked Trump’s ban in June 2021.

In June 2021, a human rights organization issued a legal notice to the Bangladeshi government that sought the prohibition of “dangerous and harmful" applications such as TikTok, PUBG, and Free Fire, but failed to obtain a response.

Soon thereafter, its lawyers filed a petition with the High Court, sharing the organization’s concerns. In August 2020, the High Court encouraged the Bangladeshi government to prohibit “dangerous and harmful” applications such as TikTok, PUBG, and Free Fire to “save children and adolescents from moral and social degradation.”

On 11 October 2020, Pakistan banned the social media platform after not complying with issues regarding the content on the platform brought up by their government.

Will TikTok Be Back In India?

In just over a year after it came to India, TikTok grew rapidly in terms of user traction, time spent on the app, and interest from advertisers. India accounted for 611 million downloads in April 2020.

Of the apps banned under the government order, TikTok and UC Browser both had a significant user base in India. TikTok had 81 million active monthly users, according to data analytics firm App Annie, making it the ByteDance-owned brand’s largest market. Alibaba said its UC Browser had about 130 million users in India, or about a 12% share of the Indian browser market.

TikTok remains inactive in India, while the government last year said that it will make the restriction permanent for TikTok and the other Chinese apps.

This has also prompted ByteDance to downsize in India, reportedly laying off more than 1,800 local employees.

As per news reports, ByteDance is looking to bring back TikTok in India with a new partnership and re-enter the market. The company is also looking to rehire its former employees.

But this time, it will have plenty of competition from Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Chingari, ShareChat, MX Takatak, Moj, Josh, and other apps.

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