TikTok seen as a big privacy risk

Posted on Tuesday, June 30 2020 @ 12:58 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
One of the most popular apps of the moment is TikTok. This Chinese video sharing app was previously known as Musical.ly and is one of the most-used apps among teens. But an investigation of the app turned up various worrying signs.

A couple of days ago, it was revealed that TikTok had been secretly stealing the contents of phone's clipboards. Thanks to the new privacy features of iOS 14 beta, users quickly found out about this as the TikTok app generates an endless stream of pop-up notifications about clipboard access on iOS 14 beta. TikTok developer ByteDance claims they do this to "identify repetitive, spammy behavior."

But Reddit user Bangorlol claims to have reverse engineered the app and he discovered several other, massive privacy violations. This isn't the first time concerns are raised about TikTok and it seems the app does have a lot more risks than Facebook, Instagram, and other popular apps. HotHardware writes TikTok has access to the following data.
  • Phone hardware (cpu type, number of course, hardware ids, screen dimensions, dpi, memory usage, disk space, etc)
  • Other apps you have installed (I've even seen some I've deleted show up in their analytics payload - maybe using as cached value?)
  • Everything network-related (ip, local ip, router mac, your mac, wifi access point name)
  • Whether or not you're rooted/jailbroken
  • Some variants of the app had GPS pinging enabled at the time, roughly once every 30 seconds - this is enabled by default if you ever location-tag a post IIRC
  • They set up a local proxy server on your device for "transcoding media", but that can be abused very easily as it has zero authentication
  • BBC News adds today that India just banned TikTok, WeChat and other Chinese apps out of privacy and security risk concerns. In total, the country banned 59 potentially dangerous apps:
    India's Ministry of Information Technology said it was banning the 59 Chinese apps after receiving "many complaints from various sources" about apps that were "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users' data in an unauthorised manner".
    "The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures," the ministry said.
    BoredPanda has more about TikTok's privacy concerns over here:
    “TikTok might not meet the exact criteria to be called “Malware”, but it’s definitely nefarious and (in my humble opinion) outright evil,” Bangorlol said. “There’s a reason governments are banning it. Don’t use the app. Don’t let your children use it. Tell your friends to stop using it. It offers you nothing but a quick source of entertainment that you can get elsewhere without handing your data over to the Chinese government. You are directly putting yourself and those on your network (work and home) at risk.”

    About the Author

    Thomas De Maesschalck

    Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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