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Cyber Security

Security Snapshot: TikTok – Harmless Fun?

 July 10, 2020

By  Tim Starnes

We’ve all heard of TikTok from family members or even use it ourselves, but truth be told, the app is a bit of a security nightmare.

Many national entities such as India have outright banned the app. The Australian senate has launched an inquiry as well, with TikTok being a major point of the investigation. The United Steps has made steps toward banning the app as well, starting by banning its use by active military members.

We already know that Facebook, for example, collects data, but we live with that risk as part of our normal lives. What makes TikTok any different? Is worrying about it worth it?

Where Is My Data Going?

When TikTok is installed, the user knows that a few things are going on – that the app is given access to the camera and microphone to make TikTok videos, it is given your contact list so that it can blast out an invite to view them or sign up for the service…. But what else is it doing? That is the golden question that security experts want answered.

“TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network,” the Reddit user wrote in a post. “If there is an API to get information on you, your contacts, or your device… well, they’re using it.” One Reddit user wrote, claiming to have backwards engineered the app to look at its code.

TikTok – A Chinese Connection

“A lot of these apps that people use including social media apps, suck up a huge amount of data on their users. And often the permissions these apps require of their users are excessive and invasive,” Fergus Ryan of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told Yahoo Finance. “The chief thing that sets TikTok apart is the fact that it is owned by a Chinese company.”

Who Owns TikTok?

That answer, unlike some in this quest, is quite clear. TikTok is owned by a firm named ByteDance, which is an AI company based in Beijing, China. ByteDance also owns the Chinese social platforms Toutiao and Douyin, which are popular in the country.

So, needless to say, the app is being run by an experienced company.

In February of this year, 2020, TikTok was caught collecting more than just basic information its users. In fact, it was caught having access to users’ clipboards (part of the copy/paste function.) It was said, as of April 16th, to have been patched.

In June, it came out that TikTok was still at its old bag of tricks, collecting user information.

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