Since its creation in 2016, TikTok has exploded in popularity to become one of the most used social media platforms in the world. Billions of users use the app to create and share short-form videos every single day. You read that right: billions with a b!
However, the platform isn’t all fun and games. Amidst the silly skits and recipe ideas, TikTok has some pretty glaring privacy concerns that make using the app a bit of a safety gamble. This threat hasn’t gone unnoticed; in fact, the app is often under investigation by news organizations, political entities, and parenting groups who all have the same question: Is TikTok dangerous?
As parents and educators in the 21st century, it’s pretty likely that we all know a child or teen who uses TikTok. After all, the New York Times reports that more than one third of the app’s users are younger than 14! As such, it’s our responsibility to help kids and teens understand the dangers that social media apps like TikTok pose when it comes to personal security.
Let’s take a look at five ways TikTok is dangerous to users’ personal privacy.
1. The TikTok Algorithm Requires Data
One of the primary reasons for TikTok’s popularity is its extremely personalized front page, dubbed the “For You Page,” or “FYP” for short. The FYP is essentially a string of videos that users can refresh and scroll through for hours on end.
Like many social media platforms, TikTok uses a highly-advanced algorithm to choose the videos that show up on a user’s FYP. Because of how advanced it is, the algorithm is able to show users TikToks related to their niche interests and personality traits. For example, my FYP has recently been full of writing prompts and language learning tips. Kinda freaky, right?
So, how is TikTok able to make the algorithm so specific? That’s easy: data collection.
TikTok collects a lot of info about its users, including
- every TikTok you watch, like, comment on, or bookmark
- how long you watch each TikTok
- the contents of your messages (TikTok messages have no encryption; more on this later)
- personal information like your name and location
- your IP address
- even your keystroke patterns!
Unfortunately, there’s no way to use TikTok without giving the app access to personal data. What you can do, however, is request a copy of your personal data so you know exactly how much of your data the app has.
To do this, open the TikTok app and navigate to “settings and privacy.” Tap on “account” and then “download your data” to request a copy of your TikTok data. It takes a few days to process the request, so make the most of that time by reading some more posts on the Troomi blog!
2. TikTok Is a Tempting Target for Hackers
With over one billion users’ data stored in TikTok’s servers, the app is a veritable treasure trove for hackers interested in stealing private user data.
While there haven’t been any massive data compromises to date, there have been many close calls. In fact, late last year Microsoft discovered a flaw in the TikTok app for Android devices that would have given hackers access to a user’s account with a single click.
Microsoft commented that “attackers could have leveraged the vulnerability to hijack an account without users’ awareness if a targeted user simply clicked a specially crafted link. Attackers could have then accessed and modified user’s TikTok profiles and sensitive information, such as by publicizing private videos, sending messages, and uploading videos on behalf of users.” Yikes!
3. TikTok Features External Links
As with other popular social media platforms like Pinterest, TikTok includes external links that take users to websites all over the Internet. Many TikTokers use this feature to link their TikTok account to other social media accounts, while others use it to promote products and merch. Sounds pretty harmless, right?
It’s actually pretty dangerous. Clicking on unknown links is never safe—in fact, I’d argue that avoiding unknown links is Internet safety rule number one! There are some shady sites on the Internet. Navigating to unknown websites could trigger drive-by downloads, expose kids to inappropriate content like pornography, or download viruses onto the device.
Opening unknown links isn’t the only danger TikTok poses. Clicking on a link in the TikTok app opens the website directly in the app, as opposed to in your smartphone’s browser. Even if your child doesn’t have an Internet browser activated on their phone, they can explore the Internet directly via the TikTok app. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this also lets the app track which websites your child visits.
4. Messages on TikTok Are Unencrypted
One of the most appealing aspects of TikTok is the ease with which users can share videos with friends. Unfortunately, messaging on TikTok is also one of the biggest reasons that TikTok is dangerous.
Messages sent between users on TikTok are not encrypted. This means that TikTok can examine your child’s messages with other users to determine what kind of content they most frequently share. The app primarily uses this data to personalize users’ FYP, but it’s a pretty glaring breach of privacy.
The danger doesn’t stop there. Because messages on TikTok aren’t encrypted, their content is never completely safe from being read by others or intercepted by hackers. This means that any sensitive messages sent through the app, especially those that contain personal information, could be accessed by someone with malicious intent.
It’s crucial to be mindful of the information we share online. If your child is active on TikTok, teach them to refrain from sharing any sensitive or personal information in their messages, even with close friends and family. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
5. Spending Time on TikTok Increases Your Digital Footprint
Has your teen ever asked you why a random company’s promotional emails started showing up in their inbox? It’s probably because the company stumbled upon their digital footprint.
The term “digital footprint” refers to the trail of data that litters behind you as you surf the World Wide Web. This includes your browsing history, messages and emails you send, forms you fill out online, and anything you upload to social media. This data can then be collected and used to create a detailed picture of who you are, your interests and activities, and even your location.
By spending time on TikTok, users increase their digital footprint exponentially. Third party entities can then use this data to develop a profile of users and target them with tailored content and ads, often without their knowledge or consent. That’s how random companies find your email. That’s not all, though: some employers even peek at potential employee’s digital footprints as a part of the hiring process!
TikTok Isn’t a Threat with a Troomi Phone
TikTok is one of the most popular apps out there—but is TikTok dangerous?
Unfortunately, TikTok poses some pretty serious threats to personal security and privacy. Between the heaps of data the app collects, the ease with which it links users to shady websites, and the fact that messages aren’t encrypted, TikTok is not a secure app for kids to use.
Safety is the name of the game here at Troomi. That’s why our kid-friendly, parent-approved smartphones don’t allow harmful social media like TikTok. Click here to learn more!
And don’t forget to swing back by the Troomi blog for more technology tips and tricks.