By: Ryan Putz
One of the fastest growing and most popular apps currently is a platform called “TikTok”. For those who do not know TikTok is a social media platform where users can post and watch small clips that range from six seconds to one minute. If you go on your iPhone right now you will see that TikTok is the number one free app on the app store currently, and it’s popularity is only growing. Since the Coronavirus lockdown “TikTok and its sister app Douyin – which is available in mainland China – now have an estimated two billion downloads worldwide, with about 800 million active users.” (Tiddy, 2020) It is a hot spot for wanna be influencers due to it having the reputation of being “the easiest app to go viral on”. It also has an in-depth algorithm that keeps feeding you content of your interest in a never ending news feed that keeps it’s users interacting and engaging with the app. While this app is highly addictive and from the outside seems quite harmless, what you don’t know is that the app is collecting massive amounts of valuable data about you without you even knowing it.
TikTok has millions of users every single day and is collecting valuable information on these users through data collection. TikTok collects data on the app such as Geolocation, everything that you touch on the screen, everything about the device used to access TikTok such as the model of your phone, your mobile carrier, operating system, etc. It also has access to your contact list as well as tracks everything that you write on the app, even if you delete it and don’t hit send. (https://news.sky.com/story/tiktok-what-data-does-it-collect-on-its-users-and-how-do-other-apps-compare-12041562)
If all of that doesn’t creep you out, probably the most valuable data that they collect from you are the data that have to do with your interests. All day TikTok is monitoring exactly what videos that you are interacting with and viewing frequently. The system knows exactly how many times you have viewed a video or if you watched one second of it and kept scrolling. All of this valuable information about you is either being sold, or used to advertise products to you that you’d be interested in.
TikTok even ran into some data collection trouble this past August. TikTok reportedly violated Google’s data collection policies by tracking the individual identifiers of Android user’s smartphones. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The app logged users’ MAC addresses — unique digital identifiers attached to all smartphones that cannot be reset — allowing TikTok parent company ByteDance to track people even if they changed their privacy settings to opt out of certain ad-tracking practices.” This is a big red flag as Google has banned developers from collecting users MAC addresses in 2015, while Apple did the same thing about 2 years earlier. Unfortunately no legal action has been taken yet due to these reports. (Sonnemaker, 2020)
TikTok’s mixture of an extremely addictive algorithm along with their data collection methods means that a lot of personal and valuable information is being collected with every scroll. I personally have deleted TikTok since finding out their data collection methods but a lot of people could care less about TikTok collecting your valuable information, what do you think?
Banjo, Shelly, and Kartikay Mehrotra. (2020). Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, retrieved from www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-14/tiktok-s-massive-data-harvesting-prompts-u-s-security-concerns.
Sonnemaker, Tyler. (2020), “TikTok Reportedly Violated Google’s Data Collection Policies by Tracking the Individual Identifiers of Android Users’ Smartphones.” Business Insider, Business Insider. www.businessinsider.com/tiktok-collected-user-data-in-violation-of-google-policies-report-2020-8.
Tidy, Joe. (2020) “TikTok: What Is the App and How Much Data Does It Collect?” BBC News, BBC, www.bbc.com/news/technology-53476117.
(2020) “TikTok: What Data Does It Collect on Its Users, and How Do Other Apps Compare?” Sky News, Sky, news.sky.com/story/tiktok-what-data-does-it-collect-on-its-users-and-how-do-other-apps-compare-12041562.