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TikTok's data practices prompt concern from some Republicans

Jun 29, 2022
Illustration of hands fighting over the Tik Tok logo.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok's data practices are under scrutiny again in Washington, D.C., after a BuzzFeed News report and TikTok's news on data storage with Oracle brought renewed concerns of Chinese access to U.S. data.

Driving the news: Republican FCC commissioner Brendan Carr sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai requesting TikTok be removed from their companies' app stores due to data privacy concerns.

  • Nine Republican senators also sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about similar concerns.
  • Last week, six Republican senators asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the Biden administration's national security review of TikTok.

Why it matters: In a 2020 move against China, the Trump administration pressured TikTok owner ByteDance to sell its U.S. business to a domestic buyer. A sale never materialized as the Biden administration took over. Will a deal with Oracle to store its U.S. data be enough?

What they're saying: "I've lost faith and confidence in TikTok's operation given their failure to be direct and clear about who has access to [its data]," Carr tells Axios. "I could care less where that data is stored, and for them to continue to mislead people by focusing on storage rather than access, I think it is a problem."

  • TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement that the company "will gladly engage with members of Congress to set the record straight regarding BuzzFeed's misleading reporting."
  • "We employ access controls like encryption and security monitoring to secure user data, and the access approval process is overseen by our U.S.-based security team. TikTok has consistently maintained that our engineers in locations outside of the U.S., including China, can be granted access to U.S. user data on an as-needed basis under those strict controls," Oberwetter said.
  • Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Alphabet declined to comment.

The intrigue: While facing the Trump administration's threat of a shutdown, TikTok received interest from Microsoft, Walmart and Oracle.

Of note: TikTok continues to grow in popularity in the U.S. Last week, the platform was at the center of VidCon, the annual conference for video creators where YouTube once reigned supreme.

What's next: Carr requested responses from Apple and Alphabet by July 8. The nine Republican senators asked for TikTok's responses by July 18.

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