TikTok Faces a New Major Threat

The popular short-form social media company is in the hot seat once again in the U.S.

Call it The FCC Challenge.

TikTok, the wildly popular short-form social media platform owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, has made its name with a seemingly endless list of challenges, a kind of call to some sort of action.

Courting Controversy 

Recent examples include the Shoot in the Sky Challenge, the Learn Something New Challenge, and the Sound Like a Beat Challenge.

Some of these challenges have result in deaths or serious injuries.

Last year, a teen-age girl in Portland, Ore. was severely burned in one challenge, while children have died in the so-called “blackout challenge,” where users film themselves asphyxiating until they pass out, and then post it online, according to Newsweek.

In March, Massachusetts Attorney General Laura Healey announced a nationwide investigation into whether TikTok “is designing, operating, and promoting its social media platform to children, teens, and young adults in a manner that causes or exacerbates physical and mental health harms.”

“As children and teens already grapple with issues of anxiety, social pressure, and depression, we cannot allow social media to further harm their physical health and mental wellbeing,” Healey said in a statement.

Banning TikTok

The platform has also been dogged by accusations that it has been passing on information to the Chinese government.

In 2019, both the U.S. Army and Navy banned TikTok from all government-issued devices.

Two years ago, then-President Donald Trump, who viewed the app as a national security threat, attempted to force Bytedance to sell TikTok or face expulsion from app stores. 

And Joe Biden’s presidential campaign instructed its staff to delete TikTok for security reasons. 

Biden revoked Trump’s ban on TikTok when he became president and instead ordered the Secretary of Commerce to investigate the app to determine if it poses a threat to U.S. national security.

Earlier this month, TikTok said it was routing all of U.S. user traffic to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, and was moving U.S. users’ private data from its own data centers in the U.S. and Singapore to Oracle cloud servers in the U.S.

‘TikTok is Not Just Another Video App’

“We’re dedicated to earning and maintaining the trust of our community and will continue to work every day to protect our platform and provide a safe, welcoming, and enjoyable experience for our community,” the company said in a statement.

The controversy did not go away, however, and on June 28, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called upon Apple  (AAPL) – Get Apple Inc. Report and Google  (GOOGL) – Get Alphabet Inc. Report from their app stores due to concerns about the security of American data.

“TikTok is not just another video app,” Carr said in a tweet with a copy of the letter. “That’s the sheep’s clothing. It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing. I’ve called on @Apple & @Google to remove TikTok from their app stores for its pattern of surreptitious data practices.”

In a follow-up Tweet, Carr said that “TikTok doesn’t just see its users dance videos.” 

“It collects search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard,” he wrote.

In his letter, Carr referred to a June 17 BuzzFeed article about TikTok that said China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users.

‘Is TikTok Destroying Civilization?’

Neither Apple, Google, nor ByteDance responded to a request for comment.

“Tiktok’s pattern of misrepresentations coupled with its ownership by an entity beholden to the CCP has resulted in U.S. military branches and national security agencies banning it from government devices,” Carr tweeted. “Bipartisan leaders in both the Senate and House have flagged concerns.”

Make no mistake, TikTok is a certified phenomenon as it looks to take on legacy social media titans Facebook parent Meta Platforms  (META) – Get Meta Platforms Inc. Report and Twitter  (TWTR) – Get Twitter Inc. Report.

Carr cited statistics that showed the TikTok app has been downloaded from the Apple and Google app stores 19 million times in the first quarter of 2022 alone.

The platform is set to surpass 1.5 billion monthly active users this year, according to App Annie’s 2022 Mobile Forecast report. For comparison, Instagram hasn’t updated the number of monthly active users since at least 2018.

The platform has even caught the attention of the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, Tesla’s  (TSLA) – Get Tesla Inc. Report CEO, who seemed to have concerns about the TikTok when he tweeted on June 17, “Is TikTok destroying civilization? Some people think so.”

‘Doing the Renegade’

Naturally, the FCC-TikTok controversy roiled across social media.

“Yup the americans don’t want any competition when it comes to invasive data harvesting,” one person tweeted in response to Carr.

“God forbid china has a video of me doing the renegade in my bathroom mirror,” another tweet said.

“How would you feel if china had access to your fingerprint or face id (depending on your phone), recordings of every keystroke you type, and access to your location history? because if you use tiktok, they do,” a commenter responded

“They’re Not worried about China… they’re just looking for more ways to control all of us,” another tweet read. “I don’t use TikTok much, but don’t like anyone trying to limit what I can and can’t do. I doubt they’re getting that much data…our other social media platforms get just as much if not more.”

Another person said that “the problem isn’t TikTok, and it’s not China.” 

“It’s the FCC’s refusal to come down hard on apps collecting data at all,” the tweet continued. “Why is Google, Facebook, etc allowed to harvest my data? If you banned that, locked that down, you wouldn’t have to worry about this!”

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