In a letter sent on Thursday, Public Citizen encouraged lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission to look into the TikTok app and ByteDance, the parent firm, joining an increasing chorus of calls from both political parties to look into claims that the Beijing-based corporation intended to use the video-based social networking app to monitor particular Americans.
Following a study of internal documents, Forbes revealed last week that ByteDance’s Internal Audit team intended to monitor two US individuals who weren’t the app’s employees using location data acquired from US users of the TikTok app.
Although accessing user location data is permitted for functions like tailoring advertisements or stopping fraudulent conduct, the company’s monitoring intentions, according to the publication, were unrelated to these user-approved functions.
TikTok previously denied claims
A spokeswoman for TikTok previously denied claims that the software has been used to “target” journalists, activists, or members of the US government.
Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization that advocates for consumer rights, encouraged the FTC in a letter on Thursday to look into the accusations of spying and “take actions as soon as possible against ByteDance and Tiktok” if they are true.
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, wrote in a letter that the proposal threatens a Big Brother-type surveillance that is anathema to democratic norms, may harm individuals’ security, and violates the most basic social expectations about personal privacy.
Following the Forbes piece, lawmakers and privacy advocates expressed a comparable alarm level. For example, Sen. Marsha Blackburn has previously criticized TikTok’s connections to China, tweeted that the company’s plans to monitor US users were “not surprising,” and called for a federal privacy law.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) executive director and president, Alan Butler, highlighted user privacy concerns and urged for more robust location data protections.
Concerns over propaganda and fake news
The app’s ties have long raised concerns over various propaganda, fake news, and data privacy to the Chinese government. The Trump administration even proposed a complete ban on TikTok in 2020.
The Biden administration promised a security examination of apps with foreign ownership in 2021, but it has yet to release its findings.
Public Citizen wrote in their letter, “It is critical that you act with urgency to uncover the full extent of individually targeted surveillance practices, if any, and hold these companies accountable for any misconduct.”