Mercedes-Benz is set to include the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok on its new E-Class vehicle’s updated MBUX infotainment system, set to hit the market this fall. The move is seen as an effort to appeal to younger drivers, particularly in the Chinese market, where the average age of an S-Class owner is below 40 years old.
However, the decision has raised concerns about the security risks of using an app that is potentially controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In addition, TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a company that has direct access to U.S. user data through its Chinese employees.
All companies in China are answerable to the CCP, which enforces a policy of “civil-military fusion” that permits the Chinese military to access anything in the economic and tech spheres. Beyond this, the CCP owns a board seat and a financial stake in ByteDance, leading Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to brand TikTok as Chinese “spyware.”
— MedicalQuack (@MedicalQuack) February 23, 2023
Mercedes-Benz’s updated MBUX system features a “superscreen” that spans the entire dashboard. When the car is parked, drivers can click on the TikTok app and watch videos. Passengers will also have access to a portion of the screen in front of them, with a driver monitoring system tracking where the driver is looking.
Mercedes has created a new software architecture to integrate third-party apps into the infotainment system, including an app store accessed through the Mercedes me app.
Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Källenius is excited about adding TikTok to the MBUX infotainment system, calling it “highly, highly relevant” in Asia. But the inclusion of the app, which collects a concerning amount of detailed data from users, including faceprints, voiceprints, keystroke patterns and rhythms, device IDs, and activity across multiple devices, has raised questions about the risks of Chinese spyware being integrated into cars.
TikTok is not the only tech giant that has made a deal with Mercedes-Benz. The automaker has partnered with Google to offer drivers navigation, maps, and YouTube via the tech giant. The agreement aims to give Mercedes-Benz more control over its intellectual property and marketplace.