TikTok is a popular social media app with many short-form videos created by its users. Owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, TikTok has been projected to surpass 1 billion active monthly users in 2021. This makes it one of the largest social media apps with roughly the same amount of activity as Instagram.
Is TikTok Safe?
Technically, yes, TikTok is relatively safe to use. Any social media company with a reach resembling Facebook’s is likely to be under scrutiny. We have seen this in Facebook’s history, as it has come under fire for its privacy policies over and over again. TikTok is not an exception and lately, they’ve been receiving lots of public attention due to their location in China which poses a potential threat that ByteDance may share data on Chinese citizens with the government there. Even President Biden, when he was running for office earlier last year, mentioned TikTok as “a matter of genuine concern”.
Cybersecurity experts suggest that one of the most serious threats to consumers is for personal information to be breached. This can be more problematic than TikTok, and Americans may worry about it much more according to Monica Eaton-Cardone. “Of all the serious cyber risks facing the average consumer, TikTok isn’t on the top of the list”, Cardone says. She also suggests that “Most Americans ought to be way more concerned about credit card fraud and password protection than TikTok.”.
Chester Wisniewski, a principal research scientist at Sophos, says: “TikTok doesn’t pose more risk to a user than any other social media sharing application. That is not to say there isn’t any risk, but it’s really no different from Facebook or Instagram.”
TikTok is no different than other apps as many of them require users’ permission to access certain aspects of the phone. This app needs access to your microphone, camera, contacts list (to search for people you know), clipboard (to copy videos or posts), and location service. To use this app successfully, some permissions are clearly necessary while others are not.
There is some debate on whether or not TikTok poses a risk to the US. Some politicians believe China could use TikTok to spy on US citizens, mine their data, and share it with Chinese authorities. In response, TikTik says it stores data from users in the US on servers located within the country’s borders, which they say shields them from requests by Chinese officials, but “there is some legal debate over whether or not this company would be subject to U.S., rather than China laws” regarding these servers,” Vigderman said.
How to Ease Personal Concerns
Experts seem to largely agree that the risks from TikTok are minimal, but it is a complicated issue. “There’s never been any evidence of malicious intent from TikTok,” said Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate. However, there have been accusations against the company in regards to security violations and collecting biometric data without consent from minors (for example, they paid $92 million this year for a class-action lawsuit over privacy claims.
With TikTok, you are always taking the chance of creating a digital footprint without knowing what risks it may pose. However, there are different ways you can ease anxiety about the risks by minimizing your time on the app.
Don’t include your full name or reveal information about yourself that is identifiable, like what year of school you are in. It’s also a good idea to keep out any personal landmarks, like street names and schools.
Create A Distinct Password
Don’t create login information that can be guessed easily. Make sure it includes a mixture of letters, numbers, and special characters. If you can’t remember it the next time you log in, pre-save it in a locked folder on your devices.
Set Your Account to Private
With your account set to “private”, which can be done in TikTok’s settings menu, it will allow you to approve anyone who tries to follow you and only your friends can see the content that you post and like.
Disable Suggested Finds
Unless you want to share your content with the entire TikTok community, make sure the “Suggest my account to others” option is unchecked in settings. This won’t have your account showing up in other people’s, or your contact’s feeds.
Cut off Interaction
TikTok also has its own privacy settings, which can be adjusted to disable features like “Allow your videos to be downloaded” and restrict who is allowed to send you direct messages.