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Tik-Tok and the issues with privacy

Social media app exposes user data on a wide scale

Close-up Photography of Smartphone Icons

News about TikTok recently surged when talks were held about banning the use of the social media app in the United States. This also came on the coattails of private discussions to purchase TikTok, kicking up a whirlwind of questions about the app’s privacy (or lack of). Privacy has been a source of controversy regarding the app as it’s owned by ByteDance, a Beijing based company. Accusations that the app was used to “spy on Americans” kicked up talks of purchasing the app and blocking Chinese access to it, but whether those claims hold legitimacy is another discussion entirely.

However, much like any social media app, it does present a serious privacy and cybersecurity concern.

Thoughts and opinions on TikTok

The idea that an app spies on users is a bold one, but, may not hold water. Why? Because the app wouldn’t need to. Whether they realize it or no, people willingly give up information about themselves in the name of entertainment or online social interaction. That’s been a thing since the days of MySpace.

Now, it isn’t necessarily malicious when users post data about themselves online, but they are exposing themselves to potentially thousands of people. TikTok takes this to a different level – let’s run through a hypothetical:

A video is posted by a TikTok user. Based on the content of the video, you can quickly gauge numerous details without needing a profile search, such as:

  • Gender
  • General age, race, eye color, hair color
  • Potentially income level, general idea of location, background potential
  • Whether they own pets, family members, potentially where they work

The list can go on much longer, but it’s the basic idea: exposure of personal information whether intended or no. A lot can be seen in a video, another tidbit in the colossal ocean if Big Data. Where does that data ago? Who accesses it? If you don’t know, are you comfortable with that?

This info is collected in the millions by ByteDance. Because of China’s economic structure, it could lead to said info in hands of China’s government. 

Don’t apps collect my info anyway?

Yes. TikTok is not an exception, and plenty of American based companies have collected user data far longer than TikTok (see: Facebook and Twitter).

TikTok is the rule, not the exception. If anything, it highlights the out-of-control distribution of information users aren’t aware of. Certainly, we’re okay with putting a bit of ourselves online, but would we do it if we knew where it was going or who was seeing it?

Ever been confused by the “algorithm?” Well, that’s not a ghost in the server – that’s based on pieces of user data collected by browsing habits and internet usage tendencies. About every website you visit or app you use in some capacity takes data. Now, often that data is merely used to create advertising campaigns relevant to a user base.

However, TikTok is just the tip of the mountain. It’s the sort of reality we live in, and almost inescapable. Our data, our information, and our habits ultimately sit in huge blocks of data pools, creating digital profiles of “us” based on days, months, and years of online habits (not just social media).

TikTok absolutely compromises privacy, but that’s only because we gave it up happily.

What can I do?

Alright, now that we’ve processed the existential cybersecurity crisis, what can be done? Can you, as a person, mitigate the loss of safety online? What about as a business? Well, yes and no.

To be frank, it’s nearly impossible to navigate the internet without your data getting collected in some fashion, but, it’s not a bad thing. Mostly, websites simply track user activity to get a better feel for how they interact with a website (specifically online vendors).

As for social media apps? Don’t use them, is the easiest solution. While there are ways to manage privacy settings on both an app and your mobile device, it’s not enough to stop the company from outright collecting info on you.

For browsers and websites, add-ons are useful for reducing (or stopping) trackers, like NoScript or Ublock. If you’re a company, it’s important to establish proper regulations and security policies on what’s accessible at work.

Tiktok presents a problem as an app that holds data in a location you may not be comfortable with. Does that mean you’ll be targeted maliciously? Not exactly. But it does mean you, as a person, are part of a data network you may not want to be part of.

If you’re still concerned and need expert cybersecurity advice, consider getting help. You can contact Bytagig today for more information.

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