What’s Up with TikTok?

TikTok has received a lot of media coverage recently, and it’s been difficult for users to determine how much of the information spreading is factual. The video sharing app is growing increasingly popular, and there have even been talks of Microsoft purchasing TikTok. At the same time, several countries and organizations have already banned the app due to security concerns and potential influence by foreign government. Sound familiar?

Here’s some helpful information to help you decide if you (or your kids) should delete TikTok:

What information does tiktok collect?

According to its U.S. privacy policy, TikTok collects information directly from users as well as other sources. Users provide TikTok personal information during registration (email, phone number, and age). As users browse, the app keeps track of the videos watched, how long you watched them, the information in your private direct messages, and your phone or social media contacts if you consent. TikTok also collects information about you automatically, like your location, the device you use, your location, phone provider, and keystroke patterns.

This is similar to the information you share with other social media apps, but it’s still quite a bit of information. It’s enough for TikTok to develop a profile on you for advertising, even if you’re not using the app.

What do they do with this Information?

What makes TikTok a little more suspicious than others is that researchers can’t see a lot of the activity going on in the behind the scenes. The app encodes a lot of the background activity to prevent automated attacks, but this leaves researchers and users in the dark. One researcher analyzed TikTok’s network traffic and didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.

So there aren’t signs of anything shady going on currently, but it’s important to note some red flags from the past few months. Earlier this year, it was found that TikTok accessed the information that iPhone users were copying/pasting outside of TikTok. This issue has since been fixed, along with other security and privacy flaws, but there are still concerns about how compliant the app is with child privacy laws.

So What’s All the fuss?

A lot of the concern around TikTok comes from its Chinese ties; since the parent company is based in China, there are concerns about influence or risks posed by the Chinese government. For example, TikTok is currently under national security review in the US to investigate accusations of censorship based on Chinese standards.

The major concern though is that China could collect personal information on millions of American users by requiring TikTok to turn over data to the government. This led to branches of the US government officially banning the app. TikTok has stated that they would not turn over user data if the Chinese government asked for it, but it’s a little difficult to say how well they will be able to play the game of being a Chinese-owned app that doesn’t follow Chinese rules.

As far as storing and sending information to China, there was a lawsuit filed in California in 2019 that did find data being sent to Chinese addresses. Currently, the network traffic for the app supports TikTok’s claims that user data is only stored in the US and Singapore, as most traffic is sent to cloud services like AWS. It’s possible that these servers aren’t the final stop though, and there are still references in the app to addresses based or registered in China.

How does tiktok compare to facebook?

It seems that TikTok collects less personal information on users than Facebook does, but TikTok is less transparent about what they collect. Facebook also tracks users even when they aren’t using the app or if their phone is off, and TikTok doesn’t do that.

What should you do?

It’s up to you to decide if you want to delete the app, but there are ways to protect yourself if you decide to keep it.

  1. Turn off personalized ads. TikTok will still collect personal information, but they’ll stop using it for ad targeting.
  2. Give them less to work with. You can browse TikTok online without making an account.
  3. (Don’t) keep it real. Does TikTok really need your real name, email, and birthday?

Leave a Reply