If you are reading this there is no doubt that you are a participant on at least one of the more than 103+ social media sites, from Thriller to Twitter, from Milkshake to Snapchat, many of which I have never heard of.

One of the more popular and newer sites, TikTok, has 1 billion monthly active users–India is the most significant contributor to TikTok installs, followed by China in the #2 position and the United States in #3.  TikTok is also a lot more popular with the younger generations, as 62% of TikTok users in the US are aged between 10 and 29, even though this site’s policy is to not allow users under 13.

Tiktok is owned by the technology company ByteDance, based in Beijing, and co-founded by Chinese entrepreneur Zhang Yiming, one of the richest men in China.  Zhang was named one of time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2019, and was described as “the top entrepreneur in the world.”

It is well-known that Facebook gathers information from its users to influence in the areas of marketing products and services, but it is also a big player in influencing political views. In addition, Facebook, as well as other social media sites, are linked with depression and anxiety among teens. If you do have teenagers  and/or grandkids, this is a must read article.

This led me to wonder what the ramifications are for using TikTok and what information this company is gathering and how it’s being used.

There is a number of good studies showing its data collection exceeds that of other social media companies,” Tom Gaffney, security consultant at F-Secure told Trusted Reviews, claims.

“TikTok tracks you, not just in its own app but if you’re logged in, it will profile your device (phone) and other accounts you access (though not the login details).”

“Here’s the more notable stuff (being collected by TikTok): : email, phone number, age, profile image and info, content you post, payment info, contact lists, IP address, advertising IDs, app and file names, keystroke patterns, location, biometric identifiers (face and voice prints), messages, uploaded content metadata, cookies, and web beacons,” says Paul Bischoff, Editor of Comparitech.

TikTok has been the subject of criticism in the past over how the company collects and uses data, especially from younger users, including claims that the company has transferred some private user data to Chinese servers.

“It also appears to be very dangerous. If you are in doubt,” says John MacGhlionn, writer for the National Review, “please take some time to read the app’s new U.S.-based privacy policies. Here, you will read about the ways in which TikTok plans to collect biometric identifiers and biometric information. The data being collected include “faceprints,” which are digitally recorded representations of a person’s face, and “voiceprints,” which are digital recordings of a person’s unique vocal characteristics. Why does a Chinese-owned app need this information, and why specifically from American users? This “privacy” policy certainly sounds anything but private. In fact, it sounds downright invasive.”

If you insist on using TikTok, protect yourself:

  • “Don’t respond to or click on links or attachments in unsolicited messages.
  • Minimize your digital footprint by revealing as little personal information as possible in your profile and posts.
  • Don’t use your real name.
  • Reject unnecessary permissions like access to your location, contact lists, keyboard, and clipboard.
  • If you need to send private messages, choose a different messaging app with end-to-end encryption like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal.”
  • TikTok doesn’t have end-to-end encryption like some other apps, making it less safe to send private or personal direct messages.
  • Avoid clicking links from unknown users and block posts from accounts you don’t recognize.

As an update to this article which I published April, 2022, TicTok has already been banned on all federal government devices and on government devices in 31 states over data privacy concerns. Now restrictions are spreading to universities, with the Auburn University, University of Oklahoma, Texas A&M and others all blocking the platform from school wifi networks in recent weeks. Banning this app from the university will be near impossible since students will get around the ban by using cellular data.

“This specific ban will likely count as barely an inconvenience for the students subject to it, and it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, both technically and ethically, to enforce students using TikTok on their own personal devices,” said Mike Parkin, senior technical engineer at cybersecurity firm Vulcan Cyber.

Still, with all we know about this social media platform, TikTok currently has close to 95 million users. By 2025, TikTok is expected to have an audience of 103 million U.S. users, which means roughly one in three Americans will have a TikTok account.

If you want to learn more about TikTok, and I hope you do before you download the app or if you have it on your phone, please read The Privacy Risks of TikTok: Why This Invasive App is So Dangerous.

 

This article written by Nancy Hugo was reprinted from January 29, 2023.