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Does TikTok spy on you? What you need to know about your privacy

Are you worried about TikTok spying on you? We’ve looked into the security concerns related to TikTok and its ties with Chinese companies and we’re ready to share our findings with you. Learn what kind of data you hand over by using the TikTok app and what to do to secure your privacy.

Does TikTok spy on you? What you need to know about your privacy

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What is TikTok?

Tik Tok is a social media platform for creating and sharing short videos, or simply watching videos created by other users. From music and gaming to recipes and trending challenges, whatever you’re interested in, you’ll probably find it on TikTok. It’s also a platform for influencers and artists to share their content, with entertainment and pop culture getting the most views and followers.

TikTok uses a powerful algorithm to personalize content feeds, making it highly engaging for users from across the globe. In January 2024, the platform had over one billion users, with over 148 million TikTok users in the US alone. With so much user data at the fingertips of the platform creators and millions of users, no wonder people are concerned about their privacy.

Is your privacy safe on TikTok?

Your privacy is as safe on the TikTok app as it is on any other social media platform. Your privacy largely depends on how you manage your account settings and what information you share with other users.

One thing is true — TikTok does collect user data. However, this isn’t a secret in the first place because the types of information TikTok collects are specified in the TikTok’s Privacy Policy. Make sure to read it beforehand to find out what data you’re agreeing to hand over by creating a TikTok account because the data is worryingly extensive.

One of the most prominent social media privacy issues that you face as a TikTok user is the risk of exposing your sensitive data to unknown persons, so be careful with what you share about yourself with your followers.

Does TikTok spy on you?

If we refer to spying as unauthorized or undisclosed monitoring and collection of user data, then the answer would be no, TikTok is not spying on you. There is no proof as of yet that TikTok collects any user data except the types described in its Privacy Policy.

The one aspect that might seem borderline spying though is the collection of user data from third parties. The list is long — TikTok collects user data from its partners, affiliated entities, advertisers, websites, and other apps you use outside of TikTok. And yet this activity doesn’t fall under the categories of spying or data breach because it’s disclosed in TikTok’s Privacy Policy.

TikTok also collects data from people who don’t have a TikTok account but interact with its content, for example, when they click on TikTok links. The platform might collect the person’s IP address, device and browser type, and their interactions with the site. You might find this invasive, but it’s not illegal, and many social media platforms do the same.

Besides, TikTok must comply with national and international legislation that protects user data privacy. Relevant agencies monitor the compliance and fines social media networks for noncompliance. For example, TikTok must align with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.

That said, many countries are concerned about TikTok’s security and its ties to China. There have been allegations that ByteDance, the Chinese company behind TikTok, is spying on its users and sharing their data with the Chinese government. Fearing that TikTok might be a national security threat, the United States Congress has approved a bill mandating that ByteDance must divest its interest in TikTok or face severe restrictions, including the app being banned from US app stores.

However, there is no publicly available evidence that Chinese government officials have ever influenced what Americans see on the app, nor any proof that they or the Chinese communist party have ever spied on US citizens through the TikTok app.

Does TikTok spy on you through your camera?

Yes, TikTok can access your camera, but only if you give the app permission, and there is no evidence to suggest that TikTok turns on your camera secretly or spies on you through it.

This permission to access your device’s camera is necessary for content creation purposes, such as recording videos directly within the TikTok app. However, you can disable this permission through your device’s settings.

If you disable camera permissions for TikTok, you can still upload videos onto the platform. You can create them with different video editing software or another camera app and upload these video files to TikTok as you would with any other media file.

It’s natural to think someone is spying on you if, for example, your webcam indicator light randomly turns on. However, this could have nothing to do with TikTok and a lot to do with spyware on your device. To put your mind at ease, check if your camera has been hacked and take the appropriate action if it has.

Does TikTok listen to you?

While TikTok has access to your device’s microphone, there is no verified evidence that TikTok turns on your device’s microphone without your knowledge to record audio or gather your data.

When you create a TikTok account, the platform requests microphone permissions to allow you to record audio for your videos or to add voiceover directly through the TikTok app. This means that TikTok only accesses your microphone when you’re using the apps features that require it.

Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to be worried that your phone is listening to you when the ads you see while browsing appear to align suspiciously well with recent private conversations. But instead of jumping to conclusions, read on about TikTok’s data collection practices and tips on how to protect your privacy.

TikTok and data privacy

Everything you need to know about what user data TikTok collects is in its Privacy Policy. To save you some precious time, we summarized it for you.

What data does TikTok collect?

TikTok collects extensive user information for data mining purposes that boil down to making the TikTok app as user-friendly and engaging as possible. For a platform like TikTok, it’s crucial to gather as much user data as it can, including:

  • Personal information. TikTok keeps your name, username, password, birthday, email address, phone number, or anything you disclose in your profile bio when you create a TikTok account, including your profile photo or video. It also collects data on your preferences and communication settings.
  • Contact information. If you want to find other users through your phone contacts, you can allow TikTok to access and collect contacts from your phone and social networks (such as names, phone numbers, and email addresses) and match that information against existing users of the platform.
  • Your content. TikTok gathers data related to the content you create and view, including the audio and video you upload or create, your clipboard content, your language preferences, and your comments and livestreams.
  • Usage information. TikTok tracks which pages you visit and your interactions with the content. It notices which videos you view and save in “My favorites.” TikTok even collects data on your browsing and search history, going so far as to record keystroke patterns.
  • Zero-party data. The platform also collects data gathered when you contact it for support, participate in surveys, or engage in promotional activities.
  • Information from third parties. TikTok receives information about you from third-party platforms you use to sign in to TikTok. For example, if you use another social media platform to sign in, TikTok will receive and store your public profile information. The platform may also receive your information from advertisers and public sources.
  • Device information. TikTok logs your device model and ID, browser type, network information, mobile carrier, operating system, IP addresses, and time zone settings. In other words, TikTok knows what device and network you’re browsing from.
  • Location information. By default, TikTok knows your IP address, but if you grant permission it can also track your location using your device’s GPS.
  • Purchase information. TikTok may log your payment card numbers, billing and shipping addresses, where required for the purpose of payment. Your purchase history will not slip past the platform — it records what purchases you make, the time of purchase, and the amount you spent.
  • Proof of identity. To verify your account or use certain features, TikTok may ask you to send proof of identity or date of birth, such as a photo of your ID.

How TikTok collects data

TikTok collects user data in a variety of ways to improve user experience, show targeted ads, and improve their services. It receives a large batch of user information from TikTok users themselves. You willingly provide your personal information and the content you create on the platform when you create an account, upload content, send messages, or buy products.

Analysis of your content and metadata is another way of gathering user data. When you upload or create content, TikTok also collects the associated metadata for content moderation and demographic analysis.

The platform also gathers data automatically when you interact with it and use its features. TikTok not only logs your actions on it but also your device information which you use for TikTok.

TikTik uses internet cookies and similar tracking technologies to analyze the effectiveness of the platform and advertisements.

How TikTok uses your data

TikTok mostly uses your data to improve functionality and personalization, but let’s break these purposes down into more specific ones:

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    Recommendations. TikTok follows your activity across the app to recommend accounts to follow and videos to include on your “For you” page. It also profiles you based on your interests, gender, and ad views.
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    Content personalization. For example, TikTok can suggest content similar to what users in your location like or interact with.
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    Functionality and user support. The platform takes into account your complaints and requests for better troubleshooting and responses to your queries.
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    Advertising and marketing. Your data, such as your age, gender, and interests, is critical for TikTok to deliver targeted advertising.
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    Safety and security. TikTok scans and reviews user content and messages for potential abuse, fraud, and violations of its terms and community guidelines.

Does TikTok share your data with others?

Yes, TikTok shares your data with third-parties for operational, legal, and commercial purposes, though it states that it does not sell your personal information or share it for cross-context behavioral advertising where restricted by law.

TikTok claims to share only the necessary information with other entities for them to fulfill their services. These entities include:

Service providers, for example, cloud service and content moderation providers, the services of which are essential for maintaining TikTok’s services.

Business partners, such as other social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter to make your sign-up, login, and content sharing processes easier.

Payment providers involved in processing transactions on TikTok.

Advertisers. TikTok collaborates with advertisers to provide targeted advertising and measure ad effectiveness.

Law enforcement. TikTok may share user data with law enforcement agencies if legally required to respond to subpoenas, court orders, or other legal processes.

Public activities. If you set your account to “Public,” anyone on TikTok can view your profile and content you post. Also, if you comment or engage in discussions on other users’ content, your comments are visible to anyone who can view the original content. Even though TikTok is not actively sharing this data, the platform bears no responsibility on who views it.

How to prevent being potential spied on by TikTok

It’s easy to stop TikTok from showing you targeted ads by disabling them:

  1. Open your TikTok app and tap the three-bar menu at the top right corner of the screen.TikTok menu
  2. Tap “Settings and privacy.”TikTok settings and privacy
  3. Tap “Ads.”TikTok ads
  4. Toggle off “Personalized ads.”Turn off personalized ads on TikTok

That’s it! You’ll no longer receive targeted ads.

And if there are specific advertisers you’ve interacted with in the last 28 hours and want to mute them, follow the same steps as above and, once in the “Ads” window, tap on “Mute advertisers.”

Mute advertisers on TikTok

Then toggle off the advertisers you no longer want to hear from.

How to stay safe on TikTok

Staying safe on TikTok requires awareness and account management. To simplify the process, we’ve compiled a short list of tips on how to keep your personal information safe on this social media platform:

  • Don’t overshare. Neither TikTok, nor your followers have to know everything about you. Sharing your personal sensitive information online with strangers can easily backfire.
  • Set your account to private. Take advantage of TikTok’s privacy settings and set your TikTok account to private so that only the followers you approve can view your TikTok videos and interact with your content.
  • Enable two-step verification (2FA). 2FA protects your account from unauthorized logins even if the unauthorized party knows your username or email and password. To prevent others from guessing your password, make sure you create a strong password and never reuse it on other accounts.
  • Practice cyber-hygiene. Use TikTok with a VPN to hide your IP address and avoid tracking by advertisers.
  • Remove TikTok. If you’ve had enough of TikTok and are willing to go to the extreme, you can delete your TikTok account. Check out our video for easy steps on how to do it:

Staying safe on TikTok depends on both the user and the platform’s effort to keep their users’ data secure. So make sure you read TikTok’s Privacy Policy and decide if you’re fine with its terms. If you are, enjoy the platform without sharing too many details about yourself — better safe than sorry!

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