Apple and Google’s continued hosting of TikTok on their app stores, despite US national security concerns about the short-form video app, reflects the tech giants’ “gatekeeper” power and should be made part of any antitrust reviews the app stores may face, a member of the Federal Communications Commission wrote to the Justice Department last week.
The previously unreported letter, sent on Dec. 2 to DOJ antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter and obtained by CNN, said that continuing to make TikTok available on the app stores risks harming consumers, whose personal information US officials have worried may be being fed to the Chinese government.
Beyond possible consumer harm, TikTok’s continued presence on app stores also undercuts Apple and Google’s arguments that their dominance in app distribution leads to better user security and privacy, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote in the letter.
It’s the latest attempt by Carr, a top Republican at the FCC, to pressure Apple and Google to remove TikTok. Last month, Carr called for the US government to ban TikTok over the bipartisan concerns that China could wield its influence over TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, to gain access to US user data or to disseminate propaganda and disinformation. Now, Carr is trying a new tack by framing the TikTok matter as an antitrust issue.
“Apple and Google are not exercising their ironclad control over apps for the altruistic or procompetitive purposes that they put forward as defenses to existing antitrust or competition claims,” Carr wrote. “Instead, their conduct shows that those rationales are merely pretextual — talismanic references invoked to shield themselves from liability.”
DOJ’s Antitrust Division should consider that “to the extent that it assesses the reasonableness of Apple’s and Google’s anticompetitive actions,” Carr added.