Congress wants Apple and Google to clamp down on foreign apps

Congress wants Apple and Google to clamp down on foreign apps
Editor at TechForge Media. Often sighted at global tech conferences with a coffee in one hand and laptop in the other. If it's geeky, I'm probably into it.

Congress is calling on Apple and Google to clamp down on apps that weren’t born in the USA (cue Springsteen).

Trump’s administration is currently mulling a complete ban of any Chinese software but, while that debate is ongoing, Congress wants the two largest mobile platform holders to begin clamping down on foreign apps in less radical ways.

The Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform has sent two letters to the CEOs of Apple and Google to request they probe where app developers are storing their data.

Stephen Lynch, Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee, wrote in the letters:

“We remain concerned that mobile applications owned or operated by foreign developers, or that store the user data of U.S. citizens overseas, could enable our adversaries to access significant quantities of potentially sensitive information on American citizens without their knowledge to the detriment of U.S. national security.”

While an outright ban on any apps developed in China would almost certainly do more harm than good, it’s not entirely unreasonable to want assurance on where data is being stored. 

“To address these potential threats, some countries have passed legislation to require internet companies to store data collected about their citizens on local servers, while others have sought to ban foreign smartphone applications altogether,” Lynch explained.

Several high-profile cases of questionable practices by foreign app developers in recent months have increased calls for greater regulation.

Among the most notable is FaceApp, a Russian AI-powered face-editing app that went viral last year. FaceApp was investigated by the FBI which concluded that it posed a “potential counterintelligence threat” as Moscow can access data directly through ISPs.

Concerns have also been raised about viral hit TikTok which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month people should only download the app “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance but is run by an American, Kevin Mayer. The company says it operates independently of ByteDance and Americans’ user data is stored in the US, with a backup in Singapore.

Whether the data of Americans is much safer in the US, given the extent of domestic surveillance, is debatable. It will be interesting to see how Apple and Google respond to Congress’ requests.

16/07 update

Speaking to reporters, Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows said: “There are a number of administration officials who are looking at the national security risk as it relates to TikTok, WeChat and other apps that have the potential for national security exposure, specifically as it relates to the gathering of information on American citizens by a foreign adversary.”

“I dont think there’s any self-imposed deadline for action, but I think we are looking at weeks, not months.”

(Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash)

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