In 2020, then-President Donald Trump famously attempted to ban TikTok. This effort never went through, and the popular social media app remained in business. President Biden, last June, reversed Trump's never-completed effort to ban TikTok.
More recently, in reaction to reporting by Buzzfeed News that employees of TikTok's Chinese parent company have more access to user data than the company has previously admitted, there's been another push for the government to crack down on TikTok.
That Buzzfeed report came from leaked audio from more than eighty meetings inside Bytedance, which led to an investigation labeled the "TikTok Tapes." "Everything is seen in China," one employee was quoted as saying in the report.
At the same time that the report was published, TikTok announced that it was making changes to how it stores customer data.
"TikTok has long stored US user data in our own data centers in the US and Singapore. Our Virginia data center includes physical and logical safety controls such as gated entry points, firewalls, and intrusion detection technologies," TikTok announced on June 17. "It's also important to maintain backup data storage locations to guard against catastrophic scenarios where user data could be lost, and our data center in Singapore serves as the backup data storage location for our US users," the statement continued.
"For more than a year, we've been working with Oracle on several measures as part of our commercial relationship to better safeguard our app, systems, and the security of US user data. We've now reached a significant milestone in that work: we've changed the default storage location of US user data. Today, 100% of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure," the statement claimed.
Brendan Carr, one of the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), wrote a letter last month calling for the CEOs of Apple and Alphabet to drop TikTok from their app stores.
"TikTok is not just another video app. That's the sheep's clothing," Carr said in the letter to the CEOs. "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… It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing's apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data," Carr wrote.
The FCC, much less a single commissioner, does not have the power to get TikTok or any other app pulled from the app stores controlled by private companies. But in early July, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking for a formal investigation of TikTok.
"We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People's Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021," Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to FTC Chair Lina Khan.
"In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counterintelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice," the letter continued.
Now, there's another call to come down on TikTok, this time from Proxima Media, the leading shareholder in Triller, a video-sharing social media networking service.
"TikTok has been lying to the American public for years,'' a spokesperson for Proxima said in the company's press release. "They swore they didn't store user data in China, promised they couldn't control our phones, and that the Chinese Government didn't have access to that data… That was a lie. What people don't understand is that TikTok is wholly owned by Bytedance, which is fully controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese government controls Bytedance under Chinese law. Therefore they have access to all data and can control all smartphones that have downloaded TikTok in any way they choose. They have now been caught red-handed, yet all they have done is state that it won't happen again," the release claimed.
Triller isn't exactly a disinterested observer, as it and TikTok have been suing each other for patent infringement in a dispute that's been ongoing since 2020.
Earlier this month, Triller's CEO called for "every American to delete TikTok today and the US Government to take direct and overdue action to ban TikTok."
"As the CEO of a global company whose mission is to help creators take control of their destiny in the creator economy, leveraging transformative adaptive technology, I stand with a growing chorus of elected officials, regulators, intelligence officials, other global executives, and consumers who recognize the enormity of the devastating impact of TikTok on our society," CEO Mahi de Silva said in the letter.