Bennet asks CEOs of Apple and Google to remove TikTok from app stores

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet speaks during a debate with Republican challenger Joe O’Dea, Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has written a letter to the chief executive officers of Apple and Google to ask them to remove TikTok from their app stores, warning its “vast influence and aggressive data collection pose a specific threat.”  

Bennet emphasized that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, is obligated by Chinese law to support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence work, potentially giving the Chinese government access to troves of Americans’ personal data.  

The senator noted that about 36 percent of Americans over the age of 12 use TikTok, including 61 percent of Americans between the ages of 12 and 34, and American TikTok users spend an average of 80 minutes a day on the app.  

“TikTok collects vast and sophisticated data from its users, including faceprints and voiceprints,” which raises national security concerns because it is required to share that information with Chinese security officials if asked, he said.  

“Beijing’s requirement raises the obvious risk that the Chinese Communist Party could weaponize TikTok against the United States, specifically, by forcing ByteDance to surrender Americans’ sensitive data or manipulate the content Americans receive to advance China’s interests,” Bennet wrote in the Feb. 2 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc. and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.  

Bennet says the risks posed by TikTok’s widespread popularity in the United States are “obvious” and “unacceptable.”  

“No company subject to [the Chinese Communist Party’s] dictates should have the power to accumulate such an extensive data on the American people or curate content to nearly a third of our population,” he said. “Given these risks, I urge you to remove TikTok from your respective app stores immediately.”  

Bennet is one of several senators on both sides of the aisle taking a closer look at potential security risks posed by TikTok.  

Congress voted last year to ban TikTok use on government devices, a proposal led by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that President Biden signed into law.  

Last week, Hawley introduced the No TikTok on United States Devices Act to altogether prohibit Americans from downloading TikTok on their devices and ban commercial activity with ByteDance.  

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a leading conservative, told The Hill that he views TikTok as “toxic.”  

And Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Wednesday that he plans to soon introduce a proposal to examine and set rules for foreign-owned technology services that pose national security risks.  

Bennet in his Thursday letter to the Apple and Google CEOs raised concern about survey information showing that a third of TikTok’s adult users in the United States say the regularly access “news” from the app.  

He said this is “especially troubling given past reports that [TikTok] has limited content critical of the CCP, along with ByteDance’s history of using TopBuzz, a now defunct news app, to disseminate pro-China propaganda to Americans.” 

He pointed to a report by Forbes that staff at TikTok and ByteDance hand pick videos for viral distribution and expressed concern they could be compelled by the Chinese government to promote content that undermines American democratic institutions or mute criticism of Chinese policy toward Hong Kong, Taiwan or its Uighur population.  

He flagged an April 2022 assessment by security researchers who determined that TikTok has the technical capability to monitor the keystrokes of American users when they open third-party web browsers such as Safari and Chrome in the TikTok app.  

TikTok paid $5.7 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that it illegally collected personal information on children. 

“Given these grave and growing concerns, I ask that you remove TikTok from your respective app stores immediately,” he wrote, noting that at least 27 state governments have also passed full or partial bans on the app.  

Tags Michael Bennet Tim Cook

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