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Does TikTok really know everything? Studies say, yes

TikTok is generally a safe app. Still, it does track specific data that users may not like.

tiktok on iphone 11
Image: KnowTechie

It’s no secret that TikTok has had its fair share of controversies in recent years. The wildly popular social media platform is expected to hit a whopping 84.9 million users in 2022, according to research from Statista.  

TikTok users find themselves scrolling through the seemingly endless stream of short videos for hours on end, which is one of the reasons it’s become so popular.

However, the app has also come under fire for collecting vast amounts of user data, not being transparent about sharing it, and not revealing what third parties have access to it.

Recently, two studies have shown that TikTok has bypassed important privacy protections that essentially allow its parent company, ByteDance, to fully access user data.

Here are the results of these two studies, how this affects TikTok users, and what they can do to protect their privacy while using the application on their smartphones. 

Two Major Studies Certified by The Wrap

tiktok on iphone
Image: Unsplash

The Wrap, an entertainment news outlet, recently confirmed the results of two studies that found TikTok can circumvent security protections in the Google and Apple app stores.

This allows the app to have full access to user data. TikTok can avoid code audits on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store, which is alarming. 

READ MORE: TikTok is being investigated for its effects on teens and kids

Additionally, the studies performed by whitehat cybersecurity experts found that TikTok can change the app’s behavior as it pleases without notifying users. It can utilize device tracking to gain an all-access pass to user data, including sensitive information, such as demographics.

Why does this matter? These are important findings that show how TikTok is operating a bit differently from most social media platforms in the United States. It even exceeds the abilities of Facebook, Instagram and other apps. 

Experts say the app’s code is hard to monitor — but TikTok believes its methods are standard. Russ Jowell, a mobile development expert at BestApp.com, believes ByteDance has gone to great lengths to conceal the inner workings of TikTok.

These studies come when millennials and Gen Zers are spending more time on their smartphones watching videos than ever before. In fact, 48% of millennials only watch videos on their mobile devices. 

Overall, these two studies examined TikTok’s source code and assessed how the app collects:

  • Data on contacts
  • Device ID
  • Clipboard actions
  • Data concealed when sent back and forth to TikTok’s servers 

While these studies are recent, this is not the first time TikTok has been questioned about its privacy, what it does with user data and how safe people are regarding their cybersecurity. 

Is TikTok Safe to Use?

new twitter tiktok feature
Image: KnowTechie

Unfortunately, there is no short answer to this question — TikTok is generally a safe app. Still, it does track specific data that users may not like.

For example, TikTok will track what videos users watch and for how long. The contents of your messages are also followed, as well as country location, IP address and what device you’re using.

TikTok can collect information about your exact location, phone contacts and other social media information, age, phone number, and even payment methods. This builds a picture of you to support its ad-targeting practices. 

There are ways to protect your privacy while using TikTok, such as ensuring your profile is private, setting a strong password, using two-factor authentication and disabling password saving. Users can also download their data and determine what information is being collected. 

To download data from TikTok, visit Profile, tap the three horizontal lines in the upper right corner and visit the Privacy section. From there, tap Download Your Data and then Request Data.

A link with the information will appear within four days in that section. You can review what data TikTok regularly collects. 

However, your data will only be available for four days after the link has appeared. 

TikTok and User Privacy

These studies highlight how TikTok can avoid running code audits and access user data. Of course, it’s your choice whether or not to use the app, depending on what information you’re willing to share.

It would be wise to exercise caution and use best cybersecurity practices to protect yourself, regardless of what social media apps you use.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Staff writer at ReHack Magazine with a passion for cybersecurity, AI, and all things tech. Offline, you'll find me cruising the neighborhood on my motorcycle or bingeing the latest true crime documentary.

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