Does TikTok Threaten your Privacy and Security?

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Written by Bernie Carr

I was considering downloading TikTok to watch possibly create short videos myself. But before doing that, I started hearing warnings about how TikTok poses a threat to security. I wanted to look into it myself so I thought I’d share what I found with my readers.

U.S. officials have warned that TikTok poses a threat to American security

I’ve been hearing about the U.S. government being concerned about TikTok since 2020:

Both secretary of state Mike Pompeo and White House adviser Peter Navarro warned on Fox News that the US was considering outlawing Chinese apps, of which TikTok is the most popular, over security concerns.

Source: WIRED

Okay, you might say, “That was two years ago, things may have changed since then.” Recently, the warnings have re-emerged. Lawmakers in Washington D.C. are concerned about allegations that TikTok shared data with the Chinese government.

Earlier this week, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican appointed during former President Donald Trump’s administration, revealed that he had asked Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores. His reason: The app collects data from users that poses risk to America’s national security. 

“It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes,” read Carr’s letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “That’s the sheep’s clothing.”

SOURCE: CNET

These officials are concerned the data collected by TikTok might be shared with the Chinese government, allowing them access to private information, create profiles on users, and monitor their behaviors. Or, the data could be used for surveillance to create misinformation against the U.S. Of course, TikTok makes assurances that U.S. users’ data is secure, and they keep all the data with a U.S. based cloud service, Oracle, and plan to delete all users’ data from their data centers.

What is in TikTok’s Terms of Service?

A few days ago, I saw on the news that Joe Rogan warned that TikTok is a threat to Americans’ data and security.

After reading the article, I thought I’d check the actual wording in TikTok’s Terms of Service.

Here is a short excerpt of what I found under Privacy/Information we collect automatically/Device Information:

We collect certain information about the device you use to access the Platform, such as your IP address, user agent, mobile carrier, time zone settings, identifiers for advertising purposes, model of your device, the device system, network type, device IDs, your screen resolution and operating system, app and file names and types, keystroke patterns or rhythms,  battery state, audio settings and connected audio devices. Where you log-in from multiple devices, we will be able to use your profile information to identify your activity across devices. We may also associate you with information collected from devices other than those you use to log-in to the Platform. 

Source: TikTok Privacy Policy

I think what concerns me the most is TikTok tracks your keystroke patterns and is able to identify you across various devices, not just the one you normally use, and they can collect information from all these devices, not just the one you used to access their platform.

Check your permissions

If you or someone in your family uses TikTok, check the permissions that you can change within your phone app. You can disable some of their access to your private information. However, much like many other social media apps, they need access to your photo, video and audio, since all those appear in their app, otherwise you would not be able to use it. A lot of kids do access TikTok and parents may not be aware of information being collected about their household.

On the other hand, some people we know whom we’ve had discussions about the invasion of privacy don’t care, they just want to use the app and feel it’s either too much trouble to change the permissions or they have nothing to hide anyway so why bother? A lot of users don’t even read the Terms of Service to begin with.

It’s best to be informed. Everyone has a choice on whether they care about privacy encroachments or not, and whether access to the platform is worth the trade-off in privacy. Do you use TikTok? What do you think?


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Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash


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