Recently the popular social media app TikTok has been under scrutiny for its potential privacy risks and influence on user behavior.
In this article, we will examine why people are concerned about TikTok, what personal information the app can access by default, and how to restrict or control this access.
We will also compare TikTok to other social networks like Facebook and Instagram and discuss the consequences of banning the platform.
Why People Are Concerned About TikTok
TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has raised red flags for several reasons:
- Data privacy concerns: People worry that the app collects excessive amounts of user data, which could potentially be accessed by the Chinese government.
- Influence on user behavior: TikTok’s addictive nature and algorithms might promote negative behavior, such as excessive screen time and exposure to harmful content.
- Potential security threats: As a foreign-owned app, there is a fear that TikTok could be used for espionage or cyber-attacks against its users, especially those connected to sensitive government information.
What Personal Information Can TikTok Access
By default, TikTok has access to a range of personal information, including:
- Location data: The app can track and store your location information based on your device’s GPS.
- Contacts: TikTok can access your phone’s contact list, which might include sensitive data like phone numbers and email addresses.
- Camera and microphone: The app has permission to use your device’s camera and microphone, potentially allowing it to record and capture content without your knowledge.
- Device information: TikTok collects data about your device, such as the model, operating system, and unique identifiers.
- Usage data: The app tracks your usage patterns, such as the content you view, like, and share, as well as the duration and frequency of your sessions.
Debunking Myths: What TikTok Cannot Access
While concerns about access to user data are always valid, there are also several misconceptions surrounding TikToks data collection capabilities.
- Remote control and keylogging: TikTok does not have the permissions to remotely control a device or act as a keylogger. Apps need specific permissions to carry out such activities, and TikTok does not possess those permissions. Therefore, it cannot override SE Linux mandatory access controls, which provide a certain level of protection.
- Cross-device tracking: TikTok cannot perform full cross-device tracking like Google and Facebook, which have more extensive infrastructure to collect data across devices. The platform can potentially gather limited information such as location and IP address, but it does not have the capability to track users across multiple devices extensively.
- MAC address tracking: TikTok cannot access or track the MAC addresses of devices on your network. Android 10 and later versions have removed this capability from apps, meaning TikTok cannot perform such tracking.
- Accessing your network: TikTok cannot examine your network to identify other devices connected to it. While Facebook had previously engaged in such activity, it is no longer possible for apps to do this on newer Android versions.
- Remotely activating camera and microphone without permission: TikTok can access your camera and microphone if you grant the necessary permissions. However, if you disable these permissions, the app will not be able to remotely activate your camera or microphone without your consent.
How To Control Access to your Personal Information
To protect your privacy while using TikTok, consider the following steps:
- Restrict app permissions: Review and modify TikTok’s permissions in your device’s settings, disabling access to your location, contacts, camera, and microphone.
- Don’t log in: Use the app without logging in to avoid providing personal information tied to your account.
- Use a VPN: Employ a virtual private network (VPN) to mask your IP address and location data.
- Isolate the app: Use TikTok on an isolated device, separate from your primary smartphone or tablet, to limit its access to your personal information.
Unfortunately, these are not things the average user would be able to do.
TikTok vs. Other Social Networks
While TikTok has got attention for privacy concerns, other social networks like Facebook and Instagram also collect, use and share extensive amounts of user personal information.
These platforms use sophisticated cross-device tracking and have access to a vast network of third-party websites and apps.
In comparison, TikTok does not have the same level of infrastructure for cross-device tracking, making it somewhat less invasive than its counterparts.
Potential Consequences of Banning TikTok
Countries are starting to block TikTok – either broadly or to select groups such as government devices and employees.
This could lead to several unintended consequences:
- Blocking other platforms: If TikTok is banned, other countries might retaliate by blocking platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
- Restricting a free internet: Banning a popular app sets a precedent for increased government control over the internet, potentially limiting access to information and communication.
- Limiting free speech: Banning TikTok could be seen as an attempt to suppress specific content or voices, undermining the principles of free speech and expression.
- Controlling content access: Restricting access to TikTok might lead to further government involvement in determining what content people can access, raising concerns about censorship and information control.
While privacy and security concerns surrounding TikTok are valid, it’s essential to understand that the app is not alone in collecting user data and potentially exposing users to risks.
By restricting app permissions, using a VPN, and employing other privacy measures, you can limit the personal information that TikTok can access.
However, considering the potential consequences of banning the platform, it’s crucial to weigh the benefits against the risks, and consider how a ban might impact the broader digital landscape and the principles of a free and open internet.