TikTok has found itself at the center of these controversies, with some labeling it as particularly dangerous. But is it really a threat to your privacy? And how can you safeguard your profile if you do use TikTok and don’t want to leave the platform?
Concerns from Employers and CEOs
In 2020, Amazon retracted an email sent to its employees, asking them to delete TikTok from their devices. It claimed that the app might be tapping into emails. And while this possibility remains speculation, there are still some skeptics.
Other employers have followed a similar path, including the financial services company, Wells Fargo, due to issues relating to security. The app has been banned in India and U.S. military government-issued devices.
Another concern for TikTok has come from within Silicon Valley.
CEO and co-founder of Reddit, Steve Huffman, said in a panel discussion: “I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it’s always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone… I actively tell people, ‘Don’t install that spyware on your phone.”
Following this sentiment, Reddit acquired Dubsmash in December 2020, a social media platform that has much in common with TikTok.
Are Privacy Concerns Political?
Since TikTok represents highly successful Chinese tech, many of the privacy worries stem from a political standpoint, going as far as to call the app a threat to national security. While these arguments are unfounded, claims have been made that the app could be covert spyware.
TikTok affirms that user safety and security is its top concern.
The service states that it has never provided user data to the government and would refuse to share such information if requested to do so.
Ties to Beijing create fear that the censorship and surveillance frequently experienced in China could be enforced on the app. Despite having privacy policies in place, that link still remains and so too does the anxiety of a possible threat.
How Has TikTok Improved Security?
It has also corrected other security vulnerabilities, highlighted in January 2020 by Check Point, that allowed cybercriminals to access users’ personal information and change account details. Apple also raised concerns relating to clipboard access by the app, a feature which TikTok then removed.
Other parties have further concerns about how the social media giant operates.
The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) filed a complaint against TikTok. It claims that the app breaches consumer rights and fails to provide children with protection from covert marketing tactics and inappropriate content, as well as unfairly using video content without compensating the creators. The BEUC is urging an authoritative investigation, with the support of 15 European countries.
How Does TikTok Use Your Data?
TikTok uses the data captured from users to make recommendations using their algorithm. This is considered standard practice for social media networks.
Users need to grant the app permission to do so, and then the app collects information relating to the content consumed and actively engaged with. Aside from standard Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on your profile, captured data includes locations, behaviors, and interests.
This data is not compromised or shared widely—so it can be considered safe in that regard. TikTok stores collected data in the United States and Singapore, but, comparatively speaking, does not mine more data than Facebook does.
This data can, however, be used to monetize the app. This extends to e-commerce, which is growing on the app.
Can Misinformation Be Shared on TikTok?
As with any popular trend, there are concerns about how the app could be used for malicious purposes.
Since TikTok has become one of the world’s most popular apps, there’s some speculation about the possibility of sharing misinformation, influencing users, and conducting mass surveillance.
Many of TikTok’s users are under the age of 34, meaning it’s the go-to app for younger demographics. Extra precautions and limitations are required for teenagers, as the content they could be exposed to is a particular worry—as is the degree to which the app could influence them.
How To Keep Your TikTok Account Private
TikTok says it is “committed to protecting and respecting [users’] privacy.”
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The app has put measures in place that allow users to protect their privacy on the app. Here are a few simple ways you can take back your own privacy.
- You can stop the app from using the data collected from your activities for targeted ads in the personalized ads menu.
- You can either use the app without creating an account or use a separate email address and contact number to log in. This limits the connections made to your other social media accounts and the contacts on your phone.
- Adjust your settings to make your account private. It will protect your profile from unrelated or unknown users. Note that your profile picture, bio, and username will still be visible in private mode.
- TikTok has a Digital Wellbeing setting that allows you to enable restrictions on content that may be deemed inappropriate.
- Manage who can interact with you by selecting who can “Duet” with you or send you messages. Keep in mind that messages sent on TikTok are not encrypted, which means this form of communication is not private.
- Report accounts, comments, and video content that violates the app’s code of conduct.
How Dangerous Is TikTok?
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Threats to the privacy of TikTok users are much like other social media apps. So far, the app has taken the necessary steps to boost user privacy where required.
However, staying up to date on security matters is recommended across services to ensure your personal data is kept private, especially when it comes to social media. Make sure you update all your apps too to patch any vulnerabilities.
TikTok also removed close to two million accounts “used for automation” in the final half of 2020.
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