US committee asks Apple, Google if apps are screened for foreign ties

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US Apple Google blackmail TikTok Grindr FaceApp
(Image Credit: BigStock/Dilok)

A US national security committee wants to know if Apple and Google require app developers to disclose their ties to foreign entities and whether apps store American user data overseas.

Why it matters: The letters indicate growing concern in the US about whether private Chinese technology companies are providing information to the Beijing government and warn that the data could be used to blackmail US users.

  • While the committee does not specifically ask for information related to China, TikTok, Grindr and Face App are mentioned in three out of four footnotes used to provide background for the probe.

Details: House national security subcommittee chairman Rep. Steven Lynch applauded the decision to force Grindr’s Beijing-based owner to divest from the LGBTQ app, adding that it could be “only a small part” of how foreign countries “seek to exploit consumer mobile application data to gain leverage” over the US.

  • The committee asked for details on the app review process before they are uploaded on the App Store and Google Play stores. It also asked whether the two issues would determine if the apps are approved for the Silicon Valley consumer tech giants’ app stores.
  • They want to know whether Apple and Google check if non-US entities hold more than 50% of the app development company and if they check where an app developer stores user data.
  • The committee also wants to know if Apple and Google track the numbers of US downloads for apps.

Briefing: Chinese firm looking to sell Grindr after US raises security concerns

Context: Bytedance’s TikTok short video app has tried to separate its Chinese and US operations, facing increasing scrutiny from US politicians in recent months, but has also delayed scheduled meetings with US regulators.

  • TikTok is the world’s third most popular app in the non-gaming category by user downloads, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower.
  • A bill introduced to the US Senate in November could make it illegal for app developers like Bytedance and Apple to store US citizens data and their encryption keys in China.