By Ramishah Maruf, CNN
While TikTok’s shortened videos are entertaining, they’re “just sheep’s clothing”, a Federal Communications Commission official said, and the app should be removed from app stores due to security issues.
But a TikTok executive, in a rare interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, claimed there were no security issues with the hugely successful app.
The shorthand video app is the most downloaded in the world, beating Instagram with 3.5 billion downloads. Users spend on average of at least 46 minutes a day on the app, sending it to storm its competitors.
On the surface, TikTok is certainly lightweight, allowing users to share content including dance videos and cooking tutorials. But critics think something more sinister could be baked into its model, saying its power comes from its data collection and algorithms.
TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, which means the company is essentially under the control of the Chinese government, CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter said.
Bytedance has promised to host US data on servers in the US to ease concerns. But one explosive report from Buzzfeed News published two weeks ago revealed that, according to audio leaks from internal meetings, engineers in China were able to repeatedly access US user data.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said Stelter lawmakers asked TikTok directly if any data was being accessed by Beijing. Instead of being candid, he said, the company has repeatedly stated that all US user data is stored in the United States.
“And it’s not just a national security issue, but to me it feels like a violation of the App Store terms,” Carr said. He has write a letter to Google and Apple asking them to start TikTok from their app stores, giving them until July 8 to respond.
The FCC has no jurisdiction over social media, Stelter pointed out. But Carr said the FCC has developed an understanding of how the Chinese government can take data and infiltrate communications.
Claims that TikTok collects browser history are “just plain untrue,” said Michael Beckerman, public policy manager, Americas, at TikTok. He also said that while the app scans your face for filters, it doesn’t use it to identify individuals.
Stelter asked if any members of the Chinese Communist Party had seen non-public TikTok user data. “The answer is that we have never shared any information with the Chinese government, nor would we,” Beckerman said, adding that they have US-based security teams.
“TikTok engineers, the people who develop this tool, create this tool, are they beholden to China, and is this a threat to the United States?” Stelter asked again.
” Absolutely not. TikTok is not a security threat,” Beckerman said, adding that TikTok is ready to be transparent and work with stakeholders.
The Buzzfeed report also said China was concerned about using TikTok to “influence the commercial, cultural or political behavior of Americans.”
“Yeah, I just don’t see that,” Beckerman said, saying the videos he sees are all from American creators.
Beckerman said the app does not allow political ads and is primarily an entertainment platform. Stelter pointed out Wall Street Journal surveys which revealed that “rabbit hole” users discuss topics such as eating disorders. “(Harmful content) is a problem for the internet as a whole,” Beckerman said.
“This is something we have worked very hard on to eliminate from our platform anything that is dangerous or harmful, violates our community guidelines.”
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