TikTok seems like any benign social media platform for teenagers to share fun dance videos, but it might be hiding way more sinister intentions. It’s fair to say that one of the world’s most popular and influential apps has raised some serious security concerns over the past few years. It’s been prohibited for U.S. government employees, and India just imposed a country-wide ban on the app. Its connection to China, content censorship, and the recent revelation that the app has been logging users’ data raises the question — is the app safe?
Security researchers say TikTok is a vacuum of data. The app was recently accused of accessing clipboard content on iOS devices. Its developers promised to fix the issue, but a few months later was caught red-handed accessing users’ private data again. If a user copied passwords, bank details, or any other sensitive information, TikTok had access to it.
TikTok said the feature was used to identify repetitive, spammy behaviour, and that the app has been updated to remove the anti-spam feature. The company claims that it was never enabled on Android devices.
There have been other app vulnerabilities raising fears over TikTok’s security. Back in January, the cybersecurity firm Check Point found a security flaw that let hackers on TikTok take control of accounts, manipulate content, and reveal users’ personal information. These issues were fixed after the firm reported them.
The biggest source of fears over TikTok’s security is the company’s connection to China. TickTok is owned by a Chinese giant, ByteDance, which means that the country’s government could compel TikTok to hand over its users’ data on a whim. Some governments even consider TikTok’s access to and collection of millions of users’ sensitive data a national security threat.
Over the past year, numerous U.S. government agencies have prohibited employees from downloading the app on their work-issued devices, fearing data collection targeting government personnel.
India also just banned TikTok along with other 58 Chinese apps, claiming that the companies engaged in activities threatening national security and infringing on Indian sovereignty.
These are not unfounded fears. Back in 2019, TikTok was found to be censoring content on China's behalf. Leaked documents showed that the app’s moderators were told to remove videos mentioning Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, Cambodian genocide, and other political topics inconvenient to China.
TikTok denies allegations over mass collection of data and censoring content. The company says certain political videos get removed to reduce conflict on the platform.
TikTok is not the first social media platform with alarming data collection and content manipulation practices. Whether or not you choose to believe the company’s justifications for their practices, the links to China add another layer of security concerns with TikTok. If you decide to download the app, make sure you follow these tips to protect your privacy online.
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