We have always loved to dance to our favorite beats and act on certain dialogues. I love to pull some reaction videos and prank videos myself. The global platform TikTok covers all these features in one single app. And, it is able to gobble up an estimate of 800 million users. But the question remains: is TikTok spying on me?
The review of TikTok’s data collection tells us that it indeed does provide a privacy threat to its users. It is likely to share data with the Chinese government. So, you might want to use it with caution.
The robust feature of the TikTok, which is formed by social media giant ByteDance is popular all over the world.
TikTok has been banned in many countries due to its suspicion of data collection and sharing with the Chinese government. Is the Tiktok Spying accusation correct? How much truth does this accusation hold? Let us find out today.
How Much User Data Does TikTok Collect?
If you are a user of social media, you probably know by now that you can obtain quite a lot of information online. From someone’s address to their phone number, transparency is key to any social media account.
Hence, the answer to how much data TikTok collects is a lot. Let us take a look at what information you are giving out to TikTok.
When You Download And Open TikTok App
I thought that it might be collecting data of actual users who create the account. So, I downloaded the app and restrained myself from creating the account.
Apparently, that was how I kept myself “safe.” But, to my shock, I got to know that I have given the following information to TikTok without even opening an account:
- IP address
- Mobile carrier
- Browsing history (i.e., the content you viewed on TikTok)
- Info on the device you used to access TikTok
- Location data if you are using a mobile device (including GPS coordinates and WiFi and mobile cell data)
If you are an Android user, your IMEI and IMSI numbers are at greater risk. An IMEI number is essentially your device’s fingerprint, so if need be, you can identify it. Similarly, an IMSI number is a number to track users from one phone to another.
When You Open An Account In TikTok App
Opening an account will require your phone number or email address and your date of birth.
As soon as you create the account, TikTok will ask for your permission to access your social media accounts like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and so on. Along with it, it will also ask for your phone’s contact list and GPS data.
So, eventually, you are giving a lot of information away.
When You Use the TikTok App
Surely TikTok is a fun app to view. People spend hours looking at funny videos and beautiful dancers in the app. But when you use the TikTok app, you give access to:
- Every video you upload
- The videos you like
- Any messages you exchange in the app
- How long you watch video
- The videos you share
- Last but not least, the in-app currency you can use to support your favorite video creators if you buy coins. TikTok will store your payment information.
How Long Will TikTok Store Your Collected Data?
If you delete your account, your information is safe, right? I thought the same. However, the collected data remains 30 days even after you delete your account. Although it is the case with most media companies, it sounds quite sketchy.
TikTok does collect data in extremes. Even though many social media platforms require such data of users to shower them with targeted ads, it is still a lot to give away.
Does TikTok Share Information With The Chinese Government?
The question about the security of usage of TikTok came to light after it was banned in the US. A fun app going through a number of lawsuits catches the attention of any user.
Yes, TikTok shares information with the Chinese government. It is not directly linked, but some indirect links are visible through which your information might be leaking.
A major difference between TikTok and other social media giants like Facebook and Instagram is ownership.
A Chinese company, ByteDance owns and operates TikTok. The headquarters of the company is in Beijing. Moreover, it has a valuation of over $100 billion.
However, it is not absolutely clear if the company is independent or coordinating with the Chinese Communist Party. The question arises as internal party politics along with Chinese domestic laws and regulations are a closed book.
Why TikTok Shares Information With Chinese Government?
Any company would not want to give its internal information to anyone. Whether it is because of its competitive advantage or trade secrets, a company tries to protect it all. Then, why does TikTok share information with the Chinese government? Let us find out!
Chinese laws are quite strict for international participation. Majorly, China’s National Intelligence Law compels Chinese companies to make any information available on request. This included data of foreign users that are you in this case. So, resistance is almost impossible even if ByteDance would want to.
What’s more? It is scarier to know that the above laws restrict the companies to disclose that their data is being leaked. Most times, you will not even know your data is used since the transparency reports defy such usage.
Lack Of Independent Judiciary
You will find a lack of judiciary in China. Due to this, companies find difficulty in appealing to requests from the Chinese government.
Involvement Of Communist Parties
Similarly, the Communist Party “cells” are involved in any real size Chinese companies legally. The companies require to compulsorily build in the parties inside them so that they show adherence to the party line.
Does TikTok Try To Resist The Chinese Government?
It is inevitable from the above explanations that the Chinese government is difficult to evade as a company. Though, does ByteDance resist the Chinese government and stay loyal to its customers? Well, it is sad that there is little evidence that it wants to protect your data.
Shutting Down Social Media Platform
In contrast, there have been cases where it used political power to protect itself. As of 2018, a Chinese social media platform, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down by ByteDance. The platform was famous for sharing jokes and comedy. ByteDance stated that state censors accused it of hosting vulgar content.
ByteDance then strengthened its cooperation with the Communist Party to hire 2000 content reviewers. Further, these reviewers stated that “strong political sensitivity” would be an asset for the position.
Providing Misleading Statements
ByteDance protects itself by saying that TikTok is not available in China. This makes it impossible to store user data in China.
What Does The Chinese Government Do With The Data Collected?
Let us suppose you have already downloaded and used the TikTok app. It undeniably means that your information is already out there. Now, you want to know what your information is used for.
The Chinese government used the information from Chinese tech companies like TikTok and Alibaba to censor, monitor, and control its citizens.
It has been using such surveillance systems in Xinjiang and Orwellian. Likewise, the blacklisted citizens, which cross over ten million of the population, cannot purchase any planes or train tickets in China.
It is only a mystery to what extent TikTok uses data of foreign citizens and what restrictions it might push you towards in the future.
What Data Does The TikTok App Censor?
Some major concerns regarding Tiktok are usage as a tool for the extension of China’s censorship.
These accusations are further pushed forward when American employees said that they were not allowed to post any political content. The pressure came directly from the Beijing administrators, the employees said to The Washington Post.
A teenage girl in Florida is a prime example of this case. Her account was shut when she posted a video about a Muslim minority in China, Uyghurs. Although TikTok stated her ban as an error, it still seems a little too convenient.
Is TikTok Secure To Use?
Now you know that TikTok analyzes and collects much of your data, the query of whether it is secure to use or not remains. I would say that using an app is your personal preference. You can definitely use the app, but it would be at your own risk.
Check Point Research cybersecurity researchers stated multiple vulnerabilities in Tiktok recently in 2019. This includes allowing attachers to make your hidden videos public or upload some unauthorized videos. Attackers can even delete your videos.
Imagine how embarrassing it would be if your hidden videos were shared without your permission. Especially when today’s world is full of troll videos going viral.
Though the research team says that the problem has now vanished, it is still a tough pill to swallow.
The latest research in 2020 suggests that you are still vulnerable to attackers if you use Android or iOS, which is pretty much every mobile phone on the market. Although TikTok says it is working on its flaws, the past records do not support it much.
Frequently Asked Questions On TikTok Spying
Am I Secure If I Use TikTok Only For Viewing Videos?
There are certain data that TikTok collects even if you download and use the app only. I have mentioned above the types of information it uses, like browsing history, location, and IP address. So, if you do not want such data to be collected, you are at risk.
Which Countries Have Banned TikTok?
A major ban on Tiktok is trending among many countries as the lawsuit blooms in the US. Secret oppression of China is not much appreciated by many countries, even though the chances are low. Majorly, the risk hypes as there is a doubt that TikTok is spying on us.
The countries which have a ban on Tiktok are:
- Japan (Thinking of a ban but not banned yet)
Some of the above countries reason their decision of a ban on TikTok as the inappropriate content it provides. So, not all countries have banned the contents of TikTok because they doubt the spying.
Not only TikTok, but these countries have banned several Chinese apps to protect their privacy and maintain security. This makes it harder to recognize whether they banned TikTok because of inappropriate use or because of the threat of spying.
Should I Let My Children Use TikTok?
But only adults but children are also vulnerable to the app. Since the number of users is growing, you should be concerned if your child uses TikTok.
The data TikTok collects from your children is massive. Besides, most children do not even know what data they allow the sites to obtain.
As of 2019, ByteDance had to settle allegations by paying a whopping amount of $5.7 million fine to the FTC. The reason was that it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
No children are allowed to sign up to any platform without their parents’ consent if they are under 13. However, TikTok lacked the same feature, which cost it a fortune.
Similarly, the topic did not stop then and there. The allegations still continued in May 2020. This time, the allegations were even stronger, with 20 advocacy groups as a backup.
It added to the previous allegations that TikTok does not allow parents to review or delete the personal information it collects from their children.
If your children have been using TikTok since 2019 or before, you might want to review the contents yourself!
How To Reduce Privacy Risk And Keep Using TikTok?
Tiktok collects information and data from you like any of the social media apps you are currently using. However, a greater risk lies in what the data can be used for.
Hence, the things that you can do to reduce the privacy risk as well as keep using TikTok are as follows:
- Give out less information yourself. When you can choose to skip, you should.
- You can choose a fake name and a fake email address.
- Do not allow access to your contacts or any other social media.
- Moreover, do not give away your actual phone number.
- Use TikTok from the open web and do not download the app. (This might restrict you in some sense by not allowing you to follow some accounts or post videos.)
These points do reduce the risk of using TikTok and giving away your information as well as privacy. However, it still does not help you to completely be safe from TikTok spying. Besides, your data will still be out in the open to collect.
Is TikTok Better Or Worse Than Facebook At Spying?
TikTok does gather fewer data in some ways, but it has a higher risk of using those data. Moreover, it is also at risk of attackers. Facebook, on the other hand, tracks users from inside other apps, websites, and devices that TikTok is not capable of.
The main difference between the two is that TikTok will not track you when your phone or you are asleep! Facebook has been the largest fine payer to FTC of an amount greater than TikTok $5billion in an amount to have invaded privacy.
Last Words On TikToK Spying
To conclude, TikTok does pose a threat to your data and privacy but so do most of the social media apps. Most apps like Facebook collect and use more data than TikTok.
However, it is more vulnerable security-wise in the international frontiers. You can still keep on using TikTok if it is not banned in your country.
Should you be scared of TikTok spying? I would say probably no. If you limit the use of the TikTok app and the data you give away, it is okay to use a fun app to pass your time.
Besides, a few minutes of enjoyment is a takeaway for those who use the app. In contrast, if you do not show interest in giving away your privacy, you should not use the app.