TikTok Sidesteps Privacy Protections to Share Data: Report

February 20th, 2022 2:52 PM

A new report suggested that TikTok can bypass privacy protections to share data with ByteDance, its Chinese parent company.

TheWrap exclusively reported that TikTok was not deterred from privacy protections offered by Apple and Google.

“The summaries of the studies, shared exclusively with TheWrap, suggest that TikTok is able to avoid code audits on the Apple and Google app stores,” the report said. “More alarmingly, the research found that TikTok is capable of changing the app’s behavior as it pleases without users’ knowledge and utilizes device tracking that essentially gives the company and third parties an all-access pass to user data.”

“This is highly unusual and exceeds the abilities of U.S.-based apps such as Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms,” TheWrap noted.

Cybersecurity experts expressed concerns about the reported breach of privacy.

“These dynamic properties allow TikTok carte blanche access to your device within the scope of what the application can see,” Frank Lockerman, a cyber threat engineer at Conquest Cyber, said. “The TikTok browser not only has access to convert from web to device, but it also has the ability to query things on the device itself.”

For its part, however, TikTok said that user privacy is “a top priority.” 

“The security and privacy of our global community is always a top priority,” TikTok told TheWrap. “Staying ahead of next-generation cyberthreats requires continuously strengthening the security of our platform, which is why we continually work to validate our security standards and collaborate with industry-leading experts to test our defenses.”

TikTok also said that “its product meets information security standards in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, India and Singapore and recently received certification by the ioXt Alliance for meeting standards and commitments to cybersecurity and transparency.”

One expert cautioned users about using the app.

“As with any social media, if you are not paying, then you are likely the product,” Jeff Engle, president of Conquest Cyber, explained to TheWrap. “The data you give, which almost always is more than users realize, can be hijacked, but that is an individual risk analysis on a user-by-user basis. The collection, control of distribution and manipulation of any social media makes it a powerful weapon.”

Indeed, earlier this month, The Daily Wire reported that TikTok “sends data to more third parties than any of its competitors.”

“In a new study, URL Genius leverages Apple’s new privacy features to track where various applications send user data,” The Daily Wire reported. “They determined that TikTok, on average, makes contact with 13 third-party domains — far higher than Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat. Although both YouTube and TikTok use an average of 14 trackers overall, 10 of YouTube’s trackers are first-party contacts — meaning that it primarily deals with user data for its own purposes, such as determining relevant advertisements.”