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Apple, Google urged by Democratic senator to remove TikTok from app stores

The download page for ByteDance Ltd.'s TikTok app on a smartphone.Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat and member of the Intelligence Committee, has asked the chief executives of Apple and Google to remove TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform, from their app stores, citing ‘’grave’' national security concerns.

‘’Like most social media platforms, TikTok collects vast and sophisticated data from its users, including faceprints and voiceprints,’’ Bennet wrote to Apple’s Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet. ‘’Unlike most social media platforms, TikTok poses a unique concern because Chinese law obligates ByteDance, its Beijing-based parent, to ‘support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work.’ ‘’

He said this ‘’raises the obvious risk that the Chinese Communist Party could weaponize TikTok against the United States’' by forcing its parent company to hand over sensitive data from users or manipulate content they see in a way that advances China’s interests.

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While a number of Republican lawmakers have urged a TikTok ban, Bennet is one of the few Democratic senators to propose such a drastic measure against the app, which is particularly popular among young people.

Brooke Oberwetter, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in a statement that Bennet’s letter ‘’relies almost exclusively on misleading reporting about TikTok, the data we collect, and our data security controls.’’

‘’It also ignores the considerable investment we have made through Project Texas — a plan negotiated with our country’s top national security experts — to provide additional assurances to our community about their data security and the integrity of the TikTok platform,’’ she said.

The Biden administration, through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, has been weighing a proposal to allow TikTok to continue to operate in the United States under the ownership of ByteDance. The arrangement would include routing US user traffic through servers maintained by Oracle, with the US-based database giant auditing the app’s algorithms.

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Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has said TikTok would have ‘’a big mountain to climb’' to prove that it could keep US data safe from scrutiny by the Chinese government. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has made comments critical of TikTok but has not weighed in recently.

Among Republicans, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri and Representative Ken Buck of Colorado have introduced legislation that would use sanctions to block the app from being accessed in the United States.

Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, chairman of the new Select Committee on China, has been working to craft legislation that would ban TikTok and similar apps. Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has tentatively scheduled a meeting to take up the legislation on Feb. 28.

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the company’s privacy policies, the app’s effect on children, and the company’s relationship with the Communist Party in China, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chair of the committee, said in a statement earlier this week.

In addition to concerns about data security, Bennet voiced concerns about China using the app to promote propaganda favorable to the Communist Party or to suppress material critical of it.

‘’Given these risks, I urge you to remove TikTok from your respective app stores immediately,’’ Bennet wrote in his letter.