A reckoning of transparency put online app stores firmly in its sights this week, with the introduction of the Know Your App Act in the Senate.
Its backers, which included U.S. Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and James Lankford (R-OK), pitched the bill as one meant to better protect children online and allow for more informed decisions from consumers. It would require online app stores to display the country where their apps were developed and where they are owned.
“Americans should be able to make informed decisions about the online services they use in order to protect their data and security. Requiring app stores to display an app’s country of origin is a common-sense solution that can help them do just that,” Scott, who recently joined the race to become president, said. “Parents shouldn’t fear that their family’s online privacy and security could be compromised when unknowingly using an app owned by a foreign adversary.”
Introduction of the legislation followed reports that four of the five most popular apps in the United States, including TikTok, were developed in China. Scott and his colleagues have maintained that China’s national security laws allow a means for its government to compel app developers to control content or to provide access to user data.
The bill stops short of some conservative calls for outright bans on some of these apps and companies, opting instead to provide consumers with more information – and filtering capabilities – to make the ultimate decision themselves. However, it also requires the U.S. Department of Treasury and U.S. Department of Commerce to create a list of adversaries they believe could have unacceptable control over content moderation, algorithm design or user data transfers.
Developers who fail to provide sufficient information to the app store about country affiliations would be warned by the app store itself. If a developer refuses to comply, the bill would compel app stores to remove the app entirely.
“Seeing ‘Made in China’ on nearly any product nowadays is frustrating to Oklahomans trying their best not to prop up the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese government with their hard-earned money,” Lankford said. “We already see the ways the TikTok app is a dangerous extension of the CCP that is collecting every user’s personal data and all of their contacts. I want the ‘Made in China’ label and labels for any other countries where apps like TikTok originate to be clearly marked when and where they are downloaded. Americans should remain free to buy items from wherever they want, but the least Big Tech can do is label where Americans’ money is going when they download in the app store.”