One of the social media apps that’s grown in popularity dramatically during the pandemic is TikTok.
It’s gone from “something the kids are doing” to an app that everyone from grandmas to business owners are using. Some small businesses have found the app keeps them in touch with their customers in a challenging post-pandemic environment.
During the first quarter of 2020, TikTok had a record number of downloads, 200 million.
The app’s hook is that it allows users to make short video clips that they can share online. Inside the app, they have editing features like adding fun visual elements or clips from a library of popular songs.
The problem that’s arisen is that many have questioned the security of the app because the company that owns TikTok is based in China. Many worry that parent company ByteDance would have no choice but to hand over user data to the Chinese government if they demanded it.
Concerns have caused organizations like Wells Fargo and U.S. Military branches to ban the use of the app on their devices. The U.S. government has also threatened a ban on the app altogether.
If you or a family member uses TikTok, is it safe? Should you delete the app?
As part of our goal to keep our home and business clients safe with expert managed services and up-to-date information on cybersecurity threats, we’ve put together a “cheat sheet” of details below to help you understand the risks of using the TikTok app.
What You Should Know About TikTok
TikTok is currently in a period of uncertainty right now. It’s already been banned in India and a ban in the US is possible. But until that time, millions of Americans are still enjoying the entertaining app.
Here are some facts that can help you make an informed decision about whether you want to continue using it despite the possible risk to your home network.
TikTok is Owned by a Chinese-Based Company
There has been no proof as yet that any user data from TikTok has been shared with the Chinese government for espionage or any other purpose, but the potential does exist.
ByteDance says they store all TikTok data on servers outside of China, but ByteDance itself is located in Beijing and subject to Chinese law.
That leaves the door open for potential data sharing if the Chinese government requests that data.
TikTok Has Been Fined for Privacy Violations
Even before the controversy about potential Chinese spying using the app came to a head, TikTok has had other privacy concerns.
One of these is being fined by the FTC and, in February 2019, agreeing to a settlement which was the largest at that time. The charge was a violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which states websites have to obtain parental consent before collecting data from anyone under 13 years old.
Another security concern came up in January of 2020, when a vulnerability was found in the app that could allow a hacker to take over an account, access all its data, and post as the user. This vulnerability was addressed with a security patch.
TikTok Gathers a Lot of User Data (Just Like Other Social Apps)
The price people pay for using a free social media app is that that app is collecting a lot of their data which is then sold or shared with advertisers and others.
TikTok is no different. While some of the information is what you’d normally expect to be collected by a social platform, other data (like the names of files on your device) is concerning when it comes to privacy.
Types of data collected by TikTok include:
- Your registration information (username, email, password, phone, age, etc.)
- Information you post on your account
- Payment details if you’ve made a purchase through the app
- Other social network details if you’ve linked them
- Device information (mobile carrier, model, operating system)
- Apps on your device
- File names/types on your device
- Keystroke patterns or rhythms
- SIM card-based location data
- GSP data (if turned on)
- Content of your messages on the app
- Data from cookies (websites you visit, etc.)
How Can You Make Your Use of TikTok More Secure?
If you’re finding it hard to just stop using TikTok, there are a few settings that you can use to improve your security a little while using the app.
- Managing third-party advertising preferences in the app.
- Using any OS related features that allow you to opt-out of some types of targeted advertising (such as “Opt Out of Interest-Based Ads” on Android and “Limit Ad Tracking” on iOS).
- Switching off GPS location information functionality on your mobile device.
- Limiting the amount of personal information you share in your account.
- Reviewing TikTok account settings to restrict sharing and improve security.
Improve Your Home Network Security to Keep Your Data Safe
Cris’s Tech Repair offers easy solutions for continuous protection of your home network that can prevent a breach of your sensitive information.
Learn your home security options by calling 561-985-4961 or contacting us online.