Republican senators call on FTC to investigate TikTok over data collection concerns

Republican senators call on FTC to investigate TikTok over data collection concerns
© Getty

Sens. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranIt's time for Congress to act before slow mail turns into no mail Kaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Seven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill MORE (R-Kan.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (R-S.D.) on Thursday asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to open an investigation into the social media platform TikTok, citing concerns over alleged data collection practices by the company. 

Their concerns come on the heels of intense scrutiny of TikTok by the Trump administration over allegations that the popular video sharing app, which is owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance, poses a national security threat due to potential ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

The senators, who chair subcommittees within the Senate Commerce Committee, pointed to specific concerns stemming from a Wall Street Journal story published Wednesday, which reported that TikTok sidestepped a privacy safeguard in Google’s Android operating system and was able to collect data from millions of devices that enabled TikTok to track users online. 

ADVERTISEMENT

According the paper, TikTok ended the data collection late last year, but the report noted that the data collection tactic had used an “unusual” layer of encryption to conceal the collection of media access control (MAC) addresses, which are often used for advertising purposes. 

“We urge the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company’s consumer data collection and processing practices as they relate to these accusations and other possible harmful activities posed to consumers,” Moran and Thune wrote in a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. 

The senators asked that Simons and the FTC investigate the encryption layer used to conceal the data collection, whether TikTok told users it was collecting the data, if users were able to give consent to this practice, and whether the MAC address collection had actually ended last year. 

“As members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, with oversight responsibility for the FTC and consumer data privacy, we respectfully request that the agency investigate these allegations and provide answers,” the senators wrote. 

A spokesperson for the FTC confirmed to The Hill that the agency had received the letter, but declined to comment further. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A spokesperson for TikTok strongly disputed the Journal’s findings, and the senators’ concerns. 

"As the Wall Street Journal points out, the TikTok app is not unique in the amount of information it collects, compared to other mobile apps; however the assertions made in the article misrepresent our intentions for using encryption,” the TikTok spokesperson said in a statement provided to The Hill. “Further, encryption is a common way to prevent malicious behavior linked to fraudulent activity.”

The spokesperson emphasized that “the current TikTok app does not collect MAC addresses, and like our peers, we constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges. We encourage our users to download the most current version of TikTok."

TikTok has been put under increasing pressure over the past week, following President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE’s executive order that gave ByteDance 45 days to divest from TikTok or face a ban in the United States, citing national security concerns. 

Microsoft is in talks to acquire the U.S. stake of TikTok from ByteDance, and Twitter is also reportedly considering acquiring the U.S. stake of the social media platform. 

Capitol Hill has also moved against TikTok, with both the House and Senate recently passing bills banning the app’s use on federal devices.

TikTok has repeatedly pushed back against allegations of involvement with the Chinese government, vowing to never disclose sensitive data to the CCP, moving data storage of American users to the U.S., and more recently announcing it would allow experts to study the app’s code as part of an effort to be more transparent.