The Trouble with TikTok
TikTok has raised a lot of security concerns since it first became popular in 2018 after merging with Musical.ly. This platform is a constant stream of videos anywhere from 15 seconds to 10 minutes long, where users can post their own content, host a live steam, or interact with others. Quickly after their rise in popularity they began to come under scrutiny for their privacy policies and practices.
When signing in to TikTok you are immediately asked to share you contacts, and after declining it will continue to ask every time you click on a new page. If you choose not to share your contacts, you may still be suggested your contacts profiles. This happens when other people you know share their contacts. This is enabled by default. The “use off-TikTok activity for ad targeting” is also enabled. After reading the description it seems like TikTok advertisers “share” customer information like email addresses, phone numbers, and device IDs and use it to choose that ads users are given.
If you interact with these ads in any way TikTok will save that to your profile and use it to curate more.
You can disable all of these settings and on the surface, it looks just as secure as any other site but they are still getting into a lot of trouble. In 2021 TikTok paid 92-million-dollar settlement for harvesting the personal data of users. One lawsuit accused the platform of using an AI system to scan facial features in users’ videos, and used algorithms to determine their age, gender, and ethnicity.
Another lawsuit claims that they do not accurately report how and what data is shared with companies outside the US, causing some companies to ask employees not to use TikTok on devices with information about them on it. The lawyers representing TikTok users claim the app “clandestinely vacuumed up” private and personally identifiable data that can be used to identify and keep an eye on users without permission, even videos drafts that were never posted.
TikTok was also accused of sharing this data with Facebook, Google, and other companies without users’ knowledge or consent. With the settlement, TikTok agrees to stop recording users’ biometric data, tracking their location using GPS data, and sending US data overseas, and collecting data on video drafts.
This hasn’t stopped them from continuing to collect fines and lawsuits. Most recently, TikTok faces a 28.91 million dollar fine from the UK for failing to protect children on the app. The UK commissioner’s office claims that TikTok collected data on children under the age of 13 without parental consent, failed to provide transparent policies, and collected biometric data. The exact thing they, a year earlier, said they would no longer do.
It seems like they have no plans on stopping the collection of this data and with the normal appearance of the app, to the unknowing it seems like nothing is going on. In reality, these platforms know everything about us already.
Think of all the information you have on Facebook, your friends, family, where you work and where you went to school, your birthday, and major life events. What if they turned around and sold all of this data tomorrow? What if they have already?
It can’t be a coincidence that the same target ads pop up on each individual platform.