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Is TikTok safe to use?

a year ago

TikTok: the social media platform that's captured the hearts and minds of over a billion users worldwide. With its addictive short-form videos and endless stream of content, it's no wonder this app is all the rage. But is it really as safe as we think?

As it turns out, TikTok isn't as safe as it seems. Sure, it's relatively safe for the average user, but it comes with a host of privacy and security concerns. We're talking about everything from third-party data sharing to phishing scams to potential government interference. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.

In this article, we'll delve into the nitty-gritty of TikTok's privacy and security concerns, and provide you with some helpful tips on how to stay safe while using the app.

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First, let's start with the basics. What is TikTok?

TikTok is a social media platform that's all about short-form video content. It's like a never-ending stream of mini-movies that range from funny to cringey, heartwarming to downright bizarre, there's truly something for everyone. But what really sets it apart from other social media apps is its addictive algorithm. The app is like your own personal genie, conjuring up an endless stream of content tailored specifically to your tastes and interests.

The TikTok algorithm

Are you one of the millions of people who can't stop scrolling through TikTok's endless stream of videos? Well, you can thank the app's infamous algorithm for that. But while the For You Page (FYP) may be a defining feature of TikTok's success, it's not without its problems.

The FYP is a magical land of never-ending entertainment, a scrolling feed of videos hand-picked just for you by the all-knowing algorithm. And let's be real: it's freakishly good at predicting what kind of content will keep you glued to your phone for hours on end.

But here's the catch: while the algorithm may give you a better user experience, it also contributes to one of TikTok's biggest problems: privacy.

Yes, you heard that right. Behind the whimsical facade of dancing teenagers and lip-syncing dogs lies a whole host of privacy concerns. And it all starts with the FYP.

The algorithm is notoriously effective at targeting the niche interests and personalities of individual users. It's like it knows you better than you know yourself. Scary, right? But that's not even half of it.
The algorithm's ability to assess what kind of video keeps a user on the app and then prioritize content accordingly is just the beginning. There's a whole laundry list of privacy concerns that come with it.

A data-driven algorithm

If you're one of the millions of TikTok users out there, you're already familiar with the endless stream of videos that pop up on your For You Page (FYP). But have you ever stopped to wonder how the app knows exactly what kind of content you want to see? The answer lies in TikTok's data-driven algorithm.

This algorithm is the secret sauce that makes TikTok so addictive. It monitors and logs your every move on the app, from the videos you watch to the sounds you like to the hashtags you click on. And all this data is used to curate your FYP to be as engaging as possible.

But here's the thing: as soon as you start using TikTok, the company begins building a detailed profile about you. Your interests, political leanings, and even your health conditions are all fair game. And while some people might be okay with this level of profiling, others have serious objections.

For starters, there's the first principles issue. Do you really want a corporation to have that much insight into your personal life? Are you comfortable with TikTok deducing (often with remarkable accuracy) your sexuality, political leanings, and other personal details?

But the real kicker is the practical problem. When a company gathers massive amounts of user data, it only takes one data breach for that information to fall into the wrong hands. And let's face it, hackers are always on the prowl for valuable data to steal.

So, the question remains: can you really trust TikTok with your private information? We'll delve into the potential risks and how you can protect yourself in the next part of this article.

TikTok’s In-App Browser

Yes, TikTok's in-app browser! When you click on a link within the app, instead of taking you to your preferred browser, TikTok keeps you within its own ecosystem. And while this may seem harmless at first glance, it actually gives the company access to monitor your activity on external websites.

Think about it – when you navigate to a different webpage, you're essentially leaving the safety of TikTok's bubble. But with the app's in-app browser, you're still very much within its grasp. And who knows what kind of personal information TikTok might be able to glean from your web browsing activity?

Now, to be fair, this type of monitoring is not technically against any privacy agreements. And other social media platforms, like Instagram, have similar systems in place. But that doesn't mean you should be complacent about your privacy. After all, the more information a company has about you, the more vulnerable you are to potential breaches and data leaks.

ByteDance and the Chinese Communist Party

TikTok, the social media platform that’s taken the world by storm, is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance. And if that doesn’t ring any alarm bells for you, it should. Under Chinese law, companies are required to share user data with the government if requested. So, every time you open up TikTok and start swiping through videos, there’s a chance that your personal information could end up in the hands of Chinese authorities.

But it gets even more sinister. The Chinese Communist Party has been accused of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, and some believe that ByteDance has suppressed videos discussing these issues in order to stay in line with CCP policy. So, not only is your data potentially at risk, but your freedom of expression could be as well.

As if that wasn’t enough to make you want to go off the grid, TikTok also poses a number of security risks. Like any social media platform, it’s vulnerable to hacks and data breaches. And with the amount of data TikTok collects on its users, a breach could be catastrophic. So, if you’re still scrolling through TikTok without a care in the world, it might be time to reconsider your priorities.

TikTok scams

Are you aware that hackers can easily create fake identities on TikTok and use them to scam unsuspecting users? That's right, signing up for the platform doesn't require any proof of identity, leaving the door wide open for malicious actors to create fake accounts and repost the content of other, larger creators. These scammers may then include suspicious links in their bio or send messages with malicious URLs to new followers, tricking them into downloading malware or exposing their private information. And with a large percentage of TikTok's active users being young women and girls, the potential for harm is especially concerning.

Data breaches

With TikTok's enormous user base growing at an unprecedented rate, the social media platform is a prime target for hackers looking to steal sensitive data.

And it’s not just theoretical risk, either. Microsoft recently identified a high-severity vulnerability in TikTok’s Android app, and there are reports of a potential data breach involving an insecure server. Even though TikTok denied any user data was at risk, numerous cybersecurity experts expressed concerns about the incident on Twitter.

This isn’t the first time a social media giant has been caught in the crosshairs of hackers, but the potential consequences of a TikTok data breach are particularly alarming. With so many young people using the app, the threat of malicious actors creating fake accounts and targeting them with scams or worse is all too real. It’s time to take TikTok security concerns seriously before it’s too late.

Is TikTok safe for kids?

Attention parents: before allowing your young teens to access TikTok, there are some things you need to know. While the app is intended for users over 13, it's not immune to inappropriate content. The TikTok algorithm may recommend videos of a sexual nature to users of all ages, making it difficult to guarantee that kids will only see age-appropriate content. Additionally, strangers can contact young people on TikTok through direct messages, which is why it's important to set kids' profiles to private. But don't worry, there are steps you can take to enhance safety. Use TikTok's Family Pairing feature to connect your account with your kid's for added oversight. Keep your children safe and aware on this popular app.

How to stay safe on TikTok
If you're concerned about your privacy on TikTok, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Be mindful of the content you post, avoiding personally identifiable information like images of your home or neighborhood, and limit the information you share about your work, family, and personal contacts.
  • One important step is to be wary of links and URLs. Always verify the authenticity of the account before clicking on a link in a profile’s bio or direct message.
  • Review your privacy settings on TikTok and make sure they are set to your preferred level of privacy to limit who can view your content and lower the likelihood of identity theft or scams.
  • Consider using a VPN when using TikTok to encrypt your internet connection and prevent others from monitoring your online activity.
  • Delete your TikTok account if you're not comfortable with the app's data collection practices.

By taking these steps, you can enhance your safety on TikTok and continue to enjoy the platform's content without compromising your privacy and security.
 


 

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