Western governments removing the hugely popular app from their employees’ phones and starting investigations into its data collecting tactics appear to be one of the biggest TikTok trends at the moment.
Last week, Canada joined the United States and the European Union in banning the social networking app on smartphones that are provided by the government. Similar prohibitions are being considered by other Canadian organizations and jurisdictions.
The action was taken shortly after the federal privacy agency said that it, together with three provinces, will look into whether TikTok and its parent firm ByteDance, which is located in China, are in compliance with Canadian privacy rules.
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat stated in an email statement on Friday that agencies and Crown companies outside the purview of the federal government’s Policy on Service and Digital were “highly recommended” to think about doing the same. The decision was announced on Monday.
Being a Crown company that is not governed by the Policy on Service and Digital, CBC was not included in the decision, according to the statement.
The Bank of Canada, Trans Mountain Corporation, the National Capital Commission, and the Standards Council of Canada are among the Crown corporations that have voluntarily chosen to stop using TikTok.
But, the majority of TikTok users in this nation aren’t government workers, and they’ll continue to provide the app access to their personal information with each video they view, like, or comment on — even if they aren’t using the app.
While almost other social media platforms collect and keep user data, some cybersecurity experts are more concerned about TikTok’s data collection practices due to worries that the Chinese government may have access to it.
What TikTok Gathers from You?
The moment the app is downloaded and used on your tablet or smartphone, it begins to learn a lot about you.
The lengthy terms of service outline everything you’re committing to, including access to personal data like contacts and calendars as well as details about the device, operating system, and location you’re using.
TikTok tracks the material you interact with and for how long, much like other sites like Facebook and YouTube.
Yet according to same agreements, TikTok also keeps track of your device’s usage and performance, including “keystroke patterns or rhythms, battery state, audio settings, and linked audio devices”.
The “items and scenery that appear [in your movies], the existence and placement within a picture of facial and body characteristics… and the text of the words uttered” are other things it can recognize.
The majority of individuals won’t read the lengthy terms of service, according to Heidi Tworek, director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia and holder of a Canada Research Chair.
Precise GPS Data
Such analytics are used by social media companies to sell advertising, create new programmes, and adapt content to user preferences.
But, Robert Potter, the co-founder and co-CEO of the cybersecurity company Internet 2.0 in Canberra, claims that TikTok isn’t entirely open with its more than 1.5 billion members.
TikTok was “an anomaly in the sheer quantity of data it gathers,” according to his company’s analysis of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, all of which are owned by Meta, he added.
For instance, Potter claims TikTok users may provide “precise” GPS position data, which is significantly more exact than the firm previously acknowledged.
“It gives us a lot of pause to thinking exactly … what other elements of scrutiny would we like to subject them to?” he said.
Not ‘overtly malicious’
In a 2021 study, Paelleon Lin, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, examined the safety and privacy of TikTok and Douyin, the Chinese version of the app (they even use the same icon).
According to that assessment, neither programme “appears to demonstrate blatantly harmful behavior” like malware, and it only gathered certain data with the user’s consent.
A device’s Media Access Control (MAC) address, a special 12-digit identification number, was further obtained by Douyin. In an interview from Taipei, Lin stated that even if you completely reset a phone and erase all of the personal data, the MAC address does not alter and may still be used to recognize a user.
MAC address collection by third-party programmes is forbidden by Google and Apple alike. The app stores of neither firm have Douyin.
Lin’s report claims that TikTok did not collect them. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2020 that TikTok had “skirted a privacy protection” in Google’s Android operating system and had been collecting MAC addresses from millions of devices for more than a year. At the time, TikTok informed the Wall Street Journal that newer versions of the software do not gather MAC addresses from these types of devices.
Whereas TikTok, which stores its data in the US and Singapore, is subject to local regulations in each of those nations, Douyin is solely required to follow Chinese law.
Although Lin’s analysis did not reveal that the app links to any servers in China directly, he couldn’t completely rule out the possibility that data would be transmitted from one nation to another before being sent to China.
Both TikTok and ByteDance say that no user data is kept on the mainland of China and that no user data is given to the Chinese authorities.
TikTok’s use on official phones is prohibited by the federal government
Four Canadian privacy regulators will jointly look at TikTok.
Is TikTok harmful?
Here’s why many Western nations are paying more attention: Potter, though, challenges that.
Ottawa is concerned that TikTok’s acquisition of private information from the smartphones of federal employees may open the door for cyberattacks.
Although the government has not said it plans to broaden the restriction, there are conversations of outright banning TikTok and stopping ByteDance from operating in the U.S.
Protecting your Privacy
According to Potter, the data that TikTok gathers about each user isn’t particularly valuable.
“It’s really the aggregate, huge amounts of data,” he said.
However there are solutions to preserve one’s privacy for those who wish to utilize it but are concerned about data collecting.
Web browser add-ons and mobile apps like Privacy Badger, DuckDuckGo, and Disconnect, according to Matthew Johnson, the education manager at MediaSmarts of Ottawa, can minimize data collecting.