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FCC commissioner asks Apple and Google to remove TIkTok

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Yahoo Finance’s Dan Howley joins the Live show to discuss the FCC urging Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores amid growing worries of U.S. user data being accessed by China.

Video Transcript


BRIAN SOZZI: An FCC commissioner is urging Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores over China-related data security concerns. Yahoo Finance tech editor Dan Howley is here with the details. Dan.

DAN HOWLEY: That's right. We're looking at Brendan Carr. He is one of the FCC commissioners, and what he wants is for Apple and Google to remove the TikTok app entirely from their app stores. He says because the app itself is surreptitiously taking US user data and shipping it off to China despite what the company says-- is that it keeps the data here in the US. Basically, this all comes on the heels of that BuzzFeed article that we had seen last week.

And essentially, in that article, what they had said is, they spoke to or had recordings of some TikTok employees. They said that despite the fact that BuzzFeed-- sorry-- TikTok had published a post saying that 100% of US user traffic is going to be routed to the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure as opposed to going to China. The issue here is that we don't know what data that will be.

So we had the company seemingly allowing Chinese workers to access US user data, despite assertions that that was not true, via different backdoors. And now the company is saying, OK, we'll make sure that US user data is going to be stored in Oracle's Cloud Infrastructure, but we're not going to tell you exactly what that data is yet. And what they're saying is it's going to be data that's not publicly available. Now, that means, if you have your profile on private, your birthday, if that's private, things like that, but whatever the hell you upload, that can go to China.

And so this has been an ongoing back and forth, whether or not this is more of like a kind of Red Scare kind of thing or an actual issue. I think when it comes to user data, they do have the masks that you can use-- the AR masks-- in TikTok. That can leave a face print. That's obviously something that's very scary. I do think that the larger issue that needs to be talked about is just the soft power projection that TikTok allows China to do, which is to play itself up as a place that offers ultimate freedom and the ability to express yourself in dog memes, or apps, or whatever that is through TikTok.

It's the discussion on whether or not this data is going to be used nefariously in the future. I've spoken to cybersecurity experts who have said, well, you don't know if someone is 13, 14, 15 years old right now, and then they go to get a job in the government, they posted something stupid as a kid, China can pull that up, and, boom, now they're getting blackmailed. So that's kind of the long-tail fear. The current fear, though, I think is more of the soft power influence that TikTok can have.

JULIE HYMAN: So this is one FCC commissioner who has written this letter and spoken out forcefully. Is there any kind of actual power that this request has, and what's going to end up happening?

DAN HOWLEY: Well, this all goes back to when Trump tried to or was looking to outright ban the app in the US, right? That was the deal. And then there was discussions of Microsoft maybe buying it. And then, at one point, I think we had talked about Walmart maybe buying it.

JULIE HYMAN: I think Oracle--

DAN HOWLEY: Or Oracle was in there.

JULIE HYMAN: Oracle was in the mix, right?

DAN HOWLEY: Yeah. It was just a mishmash of whoever wanted to get their hands on it. Because look, this is the app that's kind of taking it to Facebook right now and really bruising Facebook, as far as younger users go. But this really has no impact on them. The letter itself says, just send us notes as to why you don't think it's bad that this company is lying about data or these accusations out there of it lying about user data, why you don't think that's bad, and why you want it to stay in your app store.

And so he goes on to list some other apps that were surreptitiously taking users' data. You know, it's almost a dime a dozen for apps that do this. The companies-- Apple and Google-- try to stop it. But years ago, there was a flashlight app that for some reason was taking people's GPS information even though it's just a flashlight. I don't know why they need that. But you know, I do think that the larger issue here will come down to, will politicians actually push this? Will we see some kind of regulatory framework around this?

Before we do that, we have to get to our own privacy problems here in the US, where that's moving forward slightly, but we've been talking about it for the better part of a decade or more, and it still hasn't moved forward. So I think we have to look at here, as well as there. But maybe we'll get our ducks in a row here first.