New bill proposes “Made in China” tags for mobile apps

A group of Republican senators introduced legislation on Tuesday that would require mobile app stores to clearly state the countries of origin of the services offered on their platforms. Proponents of the bill said it would increase transparency when popular digital platforms — like TikTok — have been accused of leaking US users’ personal information to the Chinese government.

The bill – introduced by Sens. Tim Scott, RS.C., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and James Lankford, R-Okla. – would “oblige app stores to publicly list the country of origin of the applications they distribute and give consumers the opportunity to protect themselves.”

The proposed legislation — dubbed the “Know Your App Act” — would apply to app stores that have “more than 20,000,000 users in the United States” and would require, in part, that they “identify the country in which the developer operates is”. [of the app] has its head office or main activity.”

The Covered App Stores would also have to indicate the country of origin of the “beneficial owner” of the digital services they offer, which the legislation defines as “an individual directly or indirectly, by contract, agreement, understanding, relationship or otherwise” exercises “significant control over Developer” or owns or controls “at least 25% of Developer’s ownership interests”.

If app developers fail to provide Covered Online Stores with accurate or updated information about their connections to other countries or individuals, the digital stores would be required to issue warnings to the platforms in question.

If an app does not provide updated information by “90 days from the date of the first warning”, the platform in question will be removed from the online store.

In addition to requiring major app stores to list the countries of origin of their products, the law requires trade and finance ministers to jointly submit to Congress, within 180 days of its entry into force and then annually, a list of foreign countries whose national laws Developers or apps could be subject to government control “over content moderation, algorithm design, or user data transfers.”

If an app is affiliated with a country listed in the report to Congress, online stores would be required to “post a disclaimer prominently on the app store page indicating that a foreign government has relied on data from the application could access.” ”

The proposal would also direct app stores to offer their users “the ability to filter out applications whose primary country of origin is a country of concern.”

In a statement, Scott – who announced his 2024 presidential campaign last month – said the bill would help Americans “make informed decisions about the online services they use to protect their privacy and security.”

“Mandating app stores to display an app’s country of origin is a sensible solution that can help them achieve just that,” he added. “Parents should not fear that their family’s online privacy and security may be compromised if they unknowingly use a foreign adversary’s app.”

Federal agencies and lawmakers have publicly raised national security and privacy concerns over the ties between popular digital apps and warring nations in recent years, with officials raising particular concerns about TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

In an April blog post, analytics firm Apptopia found that four of the five most downloaded apps in the United States — CapCut, Shein, Temu, and TikTok — are linked to Chinese companies. Proponents of the bill specifically cited these connections, saying in a press release, “China’s national security laws provide a way for the Chinese Communist Party to force application developers to control an application’s content or user data.”

US intelligence and federal regulators have warned that TikTok users’ personal information — including locations, browser histories and biometrics — could be leaked to the Chinese government, and Congress voted to ban the app from all government devices late last year .

Lawmakers from both houses of Congress have also tabled a slew of bills in recent months that either seek to ban TikTok or authorize the White House to restrict use of the app and other Chinese-originated technologies.

A proposal put forward in March by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va. – the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee – and John Thune, RS.D. — the Senate Minority Leader — would give the Commerce Department authority to “screen, prevent and contain information communications and technology transactions that pose an unreasonable risk to our national security.”

However, some Democrats and Republicans have resisted imposing an outright ban on TiKTok and other digital services linked to hostile foreign governments, citing concerns about free speech.

Calling the Know Your App Act a sound alternative to some of the more draconian bills being put forward by lawmakers, Lankford said in a statement, “Americans should continue to have the freedom to buy items wherever they choose, but very few.” Big tech can do that.” What we do is label where Americans’ money goes when they download it on the App Store.”

“We are already seeing how dangerous the TikTok app is [Chinese Communist Party] That means collecting each user’s personal data and all their contacts,” he added. “I want the ‘Made in China’ label and the labels for all other countries that apps like TikTok come from to be clearly marked when and where they are downloaded.”