Does TikTok Collect Your Personal Data?
Tension over the Chinese short-form video hosting service, called TikTok is growing around the world. The United States is seeking to introduce a national ban on the service, as there are fears about data privacy. Canada and Europe have joined the "quiet war" with China's ByteDance. All of this happened against the backdrop of the ballooning scandal, which contained signs of espionage. Critics have expressed outrage over TikTok and called for its ban, fearing that China may use the platform to collect user data worldwide. Criticism of the social network increased at the end of last year, and with the beginning of 2023, relations between the US and China became even tenser, so TikTok was again under attack.
What Is TikTok?
TikTok is a social media platform that employs algorithms for sharing short videos and has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years, with a monthly active user base of 834.3 million monthly users worldwide in 2023. The app is especially well-liked by teenagers and enjoys a global presence.
The United States confrontation with Chinese digital services commenced during the presidency of Donald Trump. He attempted to ban TikTok and WeChat, perceiving them as national security threats. Despite a series of lawsuits, the ban never took effect. President Joe Biden subsequently ified the executive order banning these apps, replacing it with a security review that uncovered several negative aspects. One of the early blows to TikTok came from a Forbes investigation that revealed ByteDance's repeated access to US users' data and planned to track specific American citizens, including journalists, using the platform. The company denied the allegations but launched an internal investigation, which confirmed that some employees had indeed surveilled journalists covering the company's activities.
Consequently, the chief internal auditor responsible for organizing the surveillance was terminated. TikTok on company phones is prohibited for United States and Canadian officials. The matter remains relevant and is under discussion at various levels.
USA vs. TikTok
TikTok has faced a series of bans and restrictions in the United States, with FBI Director Christopher Wray declaring it a "national security threat" and President Joe Biden authorizing a ban on government employees' smartphones. In response, many schools and universities in the US have also prohibited TikTok on their devices and Wi-Fi networks. ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, has since intensified its lobbying efforts and spent almost $5.4 million on lobbying last year alone. Despite this, the Canadian and Danish governments have prohibited the use of TikTok on their devices due to data protection and security concerns. In the US, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chu is set to appear before the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss consumer privacy, data security, and national security concerns.
What Type of Data Does TikTok Collect?
As soon as the app is downloaded and opened on your smartphone or tablet, it learns much about you.
Its complete terms of service define what you agree to access to personal data, including:
- access to calendars;
- information about what device you are using;
- which operating system you are using;
- your location.
Like Facebook and YouTube, TikTok also monitors the content you engage with and the duration of your interactions. However, TikTok goes further by tracking your smartphone usage, including patterns or rhythms of your keystrokes, battery status, audio settings, and connected audio devices. Furthermore, it can recognize objects and landscapes in your videos, detect the presence and location of facial and body features, and transcribe spoken words.
Accurate GPS Data and Smartphone ID
The social media industry heavily relies on GPS data analytics to customize content, develop updated app versions, and sell user advertisements. However, Internet 2.0, a cybersecurity company, claims that TikTok's practices lack full transparency with its massive user base of over 1.5 billion. The app can obtain "precise" GPS data on users' location, which is much more detailed than the company publicly acknowledged. TikTok has the unique feature of retaining the MAC address of the device - a 12-digit identifier. Despite the Android operating system's prohibition on accessing this information, TikTok found a way around it in 2020. However, the company has stated that its latest app versions do not access the MAC address.
How Unsecure TikTok Is?
The primary concern with TikTok is its ownership by Chinese company ByteDance, which raises the possibility of user data being accessible to the Chinese government, potentially making it a tool for espionage. Despite attempts by the company to deny these accusations, its questionable approach to user relations has been exposed. Security experts have pointed out the app's vulnerabilities, which could give attackers access to user accounts, including sensitive information such as device details, email, date of birth, contacts, preferences, activity, and location.
However, TikTok's privacy and security issues are not unique to the platform, as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter collect user data. The decision to restrict TikTok use may stem from concerns such as data protection, national security, child safety, and competition with local social media networks. Nevertheless, the growing opposition to the app may reflect concerns over increased Chinese political influence.
In conclusion, protecting personal data is more critical now than ever before. With the increasing prevalence of cyberattacks, limiting even social media applications’ permissions and using additional tools to secure and safeguard personal data is essential. Protecting our data can prevent identity theft, financial fraud, and other malicious activities. It is vital to remain vigilant and informed about the latest security threats and to prioritize the security of personal data.