It’s not news that TikTok — owned by Chinese firm ByteDane — tracks data on U.S. users. But how dangerous is it REALLY for China to have your information if you’re doing nothing wrong? It’s extraordinary dangerous. In fact, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr joins Glenn to explain exactly why the social media app poses a ‘national security threat’ against America...
TranscriptBelow is a rush transcript that may contain errors
GLENN: So this guy is the guy they -- they call him the FCC's 5G crusader. He's the guy who cut all of the red tape. And really pushed for the high speed networks to be built by private businesses.
He is -- he's also the guy who is rough the big forces behind telehealth. Mainly -- mainly for veterans and low income Americans, to be able to get to doctors on their smartphones or tablets or any other connected device, driving down the price, and driving up the access to medicine all around the country. And he also, like micro and I, believe in apprenticeships and everything else. This is -- I think this guy is a real warrior for what we believe are American truths. His name is Brendan Carr. He is a commissioner with the FCC. Brendan, how are you, sir?
BRENDAN: Glenn, so good to join you. Really appreciate the chance to be with you.
Big fan of everything you're doing. And listen, if you ever get in trouble at the FCC, if anybody files for profanity, or indecency complaint against you, just don't mention you know me. It will go a lot better for you.
GLENN: Yeah. I know.
BRENDAN: You and I never talked. That's your story going forward.
GLENN: I know. I know. I know how this works. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about two things. Let's start with TikTok. Everybody in the tech industry seems to be against Twitter. I mean, it's crazy by letting people talk, how they are being accused of destroying free speech.
It's an upside down world.
But TikTok, nobody seems to want to do anything about this. I've read your letter. I've read your report on this. TikTok is extraordinarily dangerous to Americans. Can you fill in, why it's a danger and why everybody in America seems to be focused on Twitter, including the White House, and not TikTok?
BRENDAN: Well, it's quite amazing. And you know TikTok is an example of this. And as we may get into Apple as well. When your product is, for better or worse, immensely popular with consumers. It's amazing what you can get away with, and I think TikTok is the prime example of this. It has millions and millions of Americans. They look at it like, well, it's just a fun platform for sharing videos and dance memes. And the reality is, that's just the clothing.
Underneath, it operates as a very sophisticated surveillance technology. Right in the terms of service, they reserve the right to get your biometrics, including face prints or voiceprints, searching browsing history, key stroke patterns. The list goes on from there. And for years, they said, don't worry, this is stored outside of Beijing. Not a big deal.
Even though our parent company is based in Beijing. And, well, that's been revealed as nothing more than gaslighting. It turns out that according to internal communications, quote, everything is seen inside of China. And that's a massive, massive problem.
In fact, their CEO was testifying in Congress, a couple weeks ago, and was asked point-blank. Do you transfer US user data to employees in Beijing, who themselves are members of the CCP. And the COO said she declined to answer that question. So that's troubling. There's also this question that came out, that they had this Beijing-based operation, that was attempting to surveil the location of specific Americans based on their usage of the TikTok application. And that's not to mention obviously, the concerns that come from the content side, where Americans, including children as young as ten years old, are being fed things like the blackout challenge.
That literally can convince them to kill themselves, and some have done that, and died as a result. So it's a national security threat, and it's something that parents should be worried about as well.
GLENN: So explain this to -- because I tried to explain this to my family. My kids were like, yeah. Right. Dad. Got it. What is China going to do with my face print or my fingerprint. Can you explain why that's dangerous?
BRENDAN: Yeah. It really is. And if you want to think about it, there's a version of TikTok itself is not available in Beijing.
But a version of it called Doiann (phonetic), a sister app run by the parent company, and that application shows his science experiments, museum exhibits, educational material. And then again, here in the US, it's showing kids, the blackout challenge. So that's where the real danger comes. Also, if you step back, what really happens when you're using TikTok. Every time you swipe or search, what you're doing is you're feeding, training, and improving China's artificial intelligence, their AI.
And China has said, we want to dominate the world in AI by 2030. And they will use it for authoritarian purposes. For surveillance. For exploiting their control. Even if you step back from your own self and your own kids. And you can TikTok itself. The idea that we're sending this data, these clips back to Beijing, it's improving their AI. And that will around and bite us in ways that are, again, unrelated to TikTok itself.
GLENN: So we have Google doing the same thing. That's why Google is free. Is they wanted all that information, to work on AI.
So you're saying, this is just another version of Google, if you will. That's here in America. To be able to mine for all of that information.
BRENDAN: Yeah. You're right. China has a fundamental flaw, both in their system of government, obviously. But it carries through to AI. Which is they don't have feedback loops. They don't understand sort of Western-free thinking.
And so they need Americans to be on TikTok, to be observing their usage of data, in order to create their AI and make it a healthy system. So the sooner we cut off, data flows back to Beijing, the sooner their version of AI starts to atrophy, and go down a separate path. And it becomes less successful.
So I think we do need to think broadly, how do we stop training China's artificial intelligence. Again, that's a piece of it. It's used for blackmail. It's use for foreign influence campaign.
And where things are right now. Is this is in the court of the Biden information.
The Treasury Department has a group called Cepheus (phonetic), Committee on Foreign Investment. And they've been reviewing TikTok for over a year, at this point. And the New York Times reports that they've got a preliminary deal in place to allow TikTok to continue to operate. Frankly, I think this is a big IQ test for the administration. And it's sort of a pass/fail at this point.
And, in fact, you just had FBI director Chris Ray testify last week in Congress, that said, that the FBI had serious national security concerns.
So I don't see how the Biden administration can go forward and bless TikTok, continue to operate.
When you have the FBI, when you have Democrats, Senator Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intel Committee saying that it is TikTok, that scares the dickens out of him. But we may very well be heading in that direction there.
GLENN: Google Play store. Apple app store. I know you wrote a letter to both of them. And said, drop. Drop this. This is really bad for the country.
BRENDAN: Yeah. I mean, putting aside the content of what's inside this application, Google and Apple have very clear terms of service to stay in the app store. And if data is being used for purposes that aren't being disclosed. Or if data is traveling the country, and being accessed from countries without that being properly disclosed.
There's precedent for Google and Apple to boot us off the app store for that reason.
So I wrote them a letter, and said, look, in light of the national security concerns, in light of these clearly surreptitious data flows that we're now learning about, just apply the terms of your app store policies, and boot them from the app store. Of course they didn't do that. And that's why you know it's obviously highly ironic. That there was at least the concern this week. That Apple might take action against TikTok. Because, look, if you're pulling advertising dollars, pulling support in Apple's case potentially from Twitter. While keeping your support or expanding your advertising on TikTok, you're sending quite the signal about your brand value. It's very different than the one you think.
GLENN: Oh, I know. Yeah. One last thing. Because I have something else, I want to talk to you about. One last thing. You just kind of brushed up on this. I think it was critical. There's a new survey out that showed, I can't remember. Six or eight out of ten children in China, want to be astronauts. And want to be scientists.
Here, eight in ten, want to be social media movers. Influencers. Yeah.
GLENN: That's crazy. And part of that is because of TikTok. As you said, they're -- this same thing, under a different name over in China, is encouraging people to do crazy, great things.
And science. And knowledge. And education.
And this same platform, is programmed here, to really make you as dumb as a box of rocks. I don't think that's -- I don't think that's just -- oh, really. I didn't even notice that. That's intentional.
BRENDAN: Yeah. You're right. And this is why I talked about TikTok as China's digital fentanyl, because it is effectively a pipe directly from Beijing, from the CCP, into the ears and eyes and minds of millions and millions of America's youth. And what they're being served is divisive content. It's content that is increasing ADHD problem. Suicide ideations. Body image issues. This is what is being fed to us.
And that's -- that's deeply -- deeply concerning. And that's why I think, it's incumbent upon the Biden administration to step in and take some action here.
GLENN: Brendan Carr, FCC commissioner. If you don't mind, I need to take a one-minute break. Because I'm actually being funded by you know the private industry and market. But take one minute, we'll be back. With Brendan Carr. FCC commissioner.
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So, Brendan, I have a philosophical question. And I would like you, if you would, noodle this out.
I tried to contact you a few weeks ago. Because I was presented with a story, of a book that was in a school library. And being read to kids in school. And it was one of the most vile things, I have ever read.
And look, I've done this for 40-plus years. I know exactly what I can and can't say with the FCC. Okay?
And I've always understood those to be community standards. Et cetera, et cetera.
Here's my -- here's my problem. There are times, when things need to be heard by the general public. And I know we can go online and do it, et cetera, et cetera.
But why, when we are a community standards-based system, if -- if you can teach it to my children, and have it in the classroom, why can't I -- a program that is aimed at adults and during the day, when kids should be in school. Why can't I read that book on the air?
BRENDAN: Well, you're right. We still have in place at the FCC rules that apply to broadcast radio and broadcast television that regulate profanity and decency. Similar content, like that. It obviously hasn't been enforced very much, in the last few years. But they're still in the books. There is a point at which, potentially, you reading things from across the broadcast airwaves. That may be found in a library, somewhere.
Could have issues, under the FCC's you know profanity. And decency regulations. Now, of course, there tends to be a newsworthy exception to a lot of that stuff. You can cover issues and stuff like that.
It's a challenge. And some people say, how you generally square this pro speech. Free speech view, with that type of stuff.
And I would say, look, what we can speak of, as adults. Is really different than the content that can be stocking the shelves for school libraries for kindergarteners.
GLENN: Yeah. My problem is, this is a show that is based on information and opinion. You may not like it. But we -- we take it seriously. We take our job seriously.
We try to be responsible. I've always been responsible with the FCC. And it's not a -- you know a 1990s Howard Stern kind of thing. Which we're way past that.
This is -- this is being read to our students, in many schools, all across the country.
And it is absolutely indecent.
And I know it's indecent. But why do I get in trouble, for exposing this indecency? And the way to expose it, is to make people understand, by hearing it, how unbelievably indecent it is.
BRENDAN: Yeah. Look, I think we've gone a long way recently in trying to address this issue by doing what you're doing. We've had instances where parents have tried to read books from their -- again, kindergarten Anna library. At school board meetings and city council meetings. And they have been shut down and said, we can't allow that content to be spoken at these city council meetings. Yet, there it is in the kid's classroom. And so I do think there's some progress in that.
You know, from my perspective, I remember growing up in high school. The famous Eminem song. "The FCC won't let me be." It's quite ironic after humming that song in high school, that I've ended up at the FCC. And, look, we try to be very pro-free speech about this stuff, but this is an issue that we're dealing with as a cultural matter right now.
GLENN: And I would not have a problem if it were me, possibly losing my license. But I -- I lose the license -- anything I do, could possibly jeopardize the license of every license in my chain. So there's no way. There's no way, I'm going to put people out of work to prove this.
BRENDAN: Right. Right.
GLENN: What do you recommend?
BRENDAN: Well, look, again, there's a newsworthy exception to discussing some of this stuff.
You know look, if you think it's -- it could be good or bad. I don't know. But if it's close to the line. There still are background indecency. Profanity rules to the FCC.
We do get complaints from time to time. We usually dismiss them or don't address them. And anything you do, potentially subject yourself, FCC scrutiny in those cases.
GLENN: My problem is, I had some of the best attorneys in Washington. On free speech and FCC. I always had -- for about 25 years. About three years ago, they called, they also represent Google and Apple. And Facebook.
And they dropped me, in the middle of a case. As a client. Because it made their other clients uncomfortable. And they had to make a choice.
So I'm not sure if you will see me and my attorney at some point.
Because I -- you know hard to get one. If you have to have my opinion today.
Brendan thank you so much.
I appreciate all you do at the FCC. God bless.
BRENDAN: Appreciate it, thank you.
GLENN: You bet. Brendan Carr, FCC commissioner.