Rubio Urges American Airlines to Suspend Free In-Flight TikTok Access

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Reporter
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
August 6, 2021 Updated: August 6, 2021

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Aug. 5 called on American Airlines to suspend its “innovative partnership” with popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok, citing privacy and data security concerns.

American Airlines announced the partnership with TikTok on Monday, saying it would allow passengers to get 30-minutes of free access to the platform.

TikTok, Rubio said, is notorious for its collection of children’s personal information, including phone numbers, locations, and even biometric data.

“As you know, in 2019, the U.S. Government launched a national security review of TikTok due to data privacy and data security concerns—a review which remains active to this day,” Rubio wrote in his letter (pdf) to American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker.

Under the Trump administration, U.S. officials sounded the alarm that Chinese tech hardware and software could be exploited by Beijing for spying, citing China’s national intelligence law that mandates companies and individuals to cooperate with Chinese intelligence efforts when needed.

TikTok isn’t the only Chinese mobile app that has drawn U.S. concerns. On Jan. 5, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning U.S. transactions with eight Chinese apps, including Ant Group’s Alipay, Tencent QQ, and WeChat Pay.

Rubio in his statement on Thursday warned that TikTok “continues to actively censor views that are not in line with the PRC Government and CCP [Chinese Communist Party] directives.”

Last year, cybersecurity experts warned TikTok was being used by the Chinese regime to spy on Americans. Critics have also warned that users’ content could be censored if the CCP deems it politically sensitive—even if that user lives outside of China.

Casey Fleming, CEO of intelligence and security strategy firm BlackOps Partners, told The Epoch Times that “all technology coming out of China—either manufactured in China, created in China—is controlled by the CCP.”

Separately, TikTok in December 2019 banned a U.S. teenager for a month after she posted a video calling out the Chinese regime for its treatment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. Feroza Aziz in an interview with The Epoch Times accused the Beijing-based company of “covering up” the truth.

Rubio said that by partnering with TikTok, American Airlines is lending its brand credibility to a company that “endangers national security and the data security of tens of millions of Americans, many of them minors.”

“I urge you to suspend American Airlines’ ‘innovative partnership’ with TikTok while the U.S. Government completes its investigation into the national security risks posed by the Chinese-owned app.”

American Airlines didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times.

Frank Fang contributed to this report.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Reporter
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.