Should I Have My Family Uninstall the TikTok App?

Millions of Americans have downloaded the video social sharing app TikTok since the pandemic started. Some for entertainment, others to try to reach small business customers in a new way.

But could the seemingly innocent app that lets people lip sync to popular songs and edit cool effects onto short video clips actually be a way to spy on people?

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the app recently. Some organizations have banned it (like the U.S. military) and it’s been banned in countries like India. There’s also a ban threatened in the US due to the fact that the app’s owner, ByteDance, is a Chinese company and subject to Chinese law.

What does this mean if you or a family member have TikTok on your phone?

Home networks hold more data than ever with people working remotely, going to school online, and using smart automation. If just one device on a network is breached, all others that share the same network are at risk.

That’s why it’s important to secure your smart devices so they’re not a threat to other devices.

We’ll tell you exactly what type of data the app is collecting, who it’s shared with, and discuss TikTok security concerns.

What You Need to Know About TikTok

You’re Sharing a Lot of Data with the App

TikTok users love the app, spending an average of 52 minutes on the platform every day. Younger users (age 4-15) spend even more time, 80 minutes per day.

And during that time, there is a lot of information that TikTok is collecting to share with advertisers and others. People often opt into data sharing during app set up without even realizing the extent of it.

TikTok is collecting everything from the names of the files on your device to your keystroke patterns (which could be interpreted to being the passwords you type in).

Here’s a rundown of the typical information the app collects, according to its privacy policy:

Information You Provide:

  • Signup information (username, phone number, email, age, etc.)
  • Your profile information (photo, name, etc.)
  • Content you generate (videos, comments, etc.)
  • Payment information if you purchase on the platform
  • Your phone and social network contacts (if you’ve given permission)
  • Account verification information
  • Information shared in surveys, contests, etc.

Information TikTok collects automatically:

  • IP address
  • Browsing and search history (through cookies)
  • Device identifiers (mobile carrier, operating system, etc.)
  • File names and types
  • App types
  • Keystroke patterns or rhythms
  • Location data from your SIM card and GPS (if you opt in)
  • Content of any messages sent through the platform
  • Metadata (such as the hashtags you use to mark content)

TikTok is Sharing Your Data With a Lot of People

There are a lot of potential entities that could end up with the data that TikTok collects. You need to remember that each organization that has your information puts you a little more at risk, because any could be subject to a data breach.

TikTok also mentions the possibility of sharing data due to “government inquiries,” which does mean that it’s possible that user data could be shared with the Chinese government if it were requested.

Here are some of the people that can end up with your TikTok user and device data:

  • TikTok’s Service Providers & Business Partners (this could be just about anyone that advertises on the platform.
  • Within the TikTok Corporate Group (parent, subsidiary, or affiliate)
  • In Connection with Sale/Merger/Transfer (Microsoft may purchase TikTok)
  • For Legal Reasons (in response to law enforcement requires, government inquiries, etc.)

You Have a Few Sharing Protections, But Not Many

Can you limit the information you share with TikTok? You can limit it somewhat, but there are only a few protections to reduce the data the app collects.

Here are a few things you can do to reduce what you’re sharing in the app:

  • Turn off GPS location functionality on your phone
  • Refuse or disable cookies in your browser
  • Manage your third-party add preferences in general at org
  • Look for device-based features to opt out of advertising (“Limit Ad Tracking” on iOS and “Opt out of Interest-Based Ads” on Android)
  • Review your account data and remove anything not required

Also, if you have children under 13-years old, you can review the privacy policy for that group.

TikTok Has Experienced Past Security Issues

The current controversy regarding TikTok is about its potential to be used by the Chinese government to spy on global users, and this is what has caused the bans and left the app facing a potential nationwide ban in the U.S.

However, the app has experienced past security issues as well.

In February 2019, TikTok agreed to pay the FTC a $5.7 million settlement due to allegations that the app illegally collected personal information from children without parental consent.

In January 2020, there was a security vulnerability found in the app that allowed hackers to take over user accounts, access the information inside, and post as users. This vulnerability has since been patched.

Does Your Home Network Have the Protect it Needs?

One hacker breaching your home network could cause serious damage if they get their hands on personal banking information or other sensitive data. Quantum PC Services can help you put network and device safeguards in place to keep your family protected.

Contact us today to learn more! Call 920-256-1214 or reach us online.