With more than 2 billion downloads around the world and 165 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is wildly popular.
The coronavirus lockdown only increased its fandom as millions of bored kids, teens and influencers used the short video app to turn themselves into instant stars. The app is hip, fun and addictive. But is it safe?
Let’s take a look at the way TikTok operates and the security concerns surrounding the app.
How does TikTok work?
TikTok is a free social media platform letting users watch, create and share videos — often with a music soundtrack and other fun embellishments — right from their phones. Users can lip-sync to their favorite music hits, share their best dance moves on the app or show off their pet’s latest trick; all while connecting with friends through likes, comments and duets.
TikTok is owned by the Chinese tech company, ByteDance.
What are the safety concerns with TikTok?
Like all social media platforms, TikTok encourages users to share slivers of their personal life. The app also captures user data by tracking likes, dislikes, friends, consumer patterns of behavior, locations and more. While other major platforms, like Facebook, do the same thing, TikTok is the first Chinese-owned app to gain such broad popularity in the United States, raising privacy concerns that Americans have never grappled with before.
There have been some claims that TikTok is a cover for Chinese spyware that steals users’ information and sends it back to China, but these allegations have been mostly unfounded. If TikTok is actually being used to scrape information on the lifestyle and habits of millions of Americans, that data could turn into a national security risk.
Another concern with the safety of TikTok is the app’s occasional release of new software with security vulnerabilities needing to be urgently fixed. While these issues are relatively common with apps, and they’ve all been patched quickly, the small window of time between the release of the software and the security patch-up can pose a serious risk to TikTok users.
Will TikTok be banned in the U.S.?
The United States is not the first country to raise concerns over the safety of TikTok. The app has already been threatened with bans in several countries, including Indonesia, Pakistan and Japan.
More recently, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to ban TikTok in the United States. Trump is pressuring ByteDance to sell the app to an American company before the ban goes into effect on Sept. 15. Microsoft is currently under negotiations with ByteDance to purchase 30% of the app, but the administration is pushing for complete ownership by an American company. As the deadline for a deal approaches, TikTok continues to insist that its platform is completely secure.
“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S.,” the company said in a statement. “We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
Should users delete the app?
With negotiations still underway, and the future of TikTok in the U.S. still unknown, many users are unsure of how to proceed. Is the app safe to use?
There’s no black-and-white answer to this critical question. While every social media platform poses a safety risk, as the only Chinese-owned app to dominate the American scene, TikTok is a bigger concern. You may want to delete the app just to be on the safe side.
If you decide to keep TikTok on your device, be sure to exercise caution when using the app:
- Don’t assume your data is private. Keep all potentially vulnerable information off the app and videos you share.\
- Keep the app’s setting private.
- Beware of what you share. If you aren’t comfortable with the video going viral, don’t share it.
TikTok is a super-fun app that may pose a potential risk to user security. It’s best to practice caution when using the app to keep your information safe.
Your Turn: Are you concerned about the safety of TikTok? Tell us about it in the comments.