Is TikTok Safe?

The social media app TikTok crossed the IT Security news threshold this weekend. Amazon sent an email to employees instructing them to remove TikTok from any mobile device that accesses Amazon’s company email. Amazon later retracted the email, saying it was sent in error, but the wave of news stories could not be stopped. Wells Fargo followed up by instructing employees to delete the app from any company owned mobile devices.

TikTok is a social media app where a user can create and share 15 second videos. The app launched in 2017 but has become wildly popular during the pandemic lockdown. TikTok is currently the 6th most downloaded app in the world, with an 800 million user base. 30 million of those users are in the US and half of all users are age 15 – 25. The parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, is the most valuable privately held company in the world. TikTok filled the void after Vine was shut down by Twitter. ByteDance bought out, and positioned itself as the primary short video sharing app.

The app collects personal information like other social media platforms, but officials are concerned the Chinese owned app could filter personal information back to the Chinese government. There is no public evidence this has occurred. Another concern of US officials is the ability of a foreign government to have influence over a large part of the population during an election year. A third concern is the number of vulnerabilities TikTok has faced over its short life, possibly giving hackers access to its large user base.

This is not the first time the social media app has faced criticism. In 2019, ByteDance paid FCC fines for collecting data from minors. In March, it was found the app was accessing the clipboard of iPhones even when the app was closed. The app was banned in India last month with the country siting it was a danger to the country.

The app records users’ IP address, geo location, and search history. This is not excessive for a social media platform, the question is if the data is safe. This latest wave of criticism sparked by Amazon has other corporations and US lawmakers reacting, while the IT community continues to research and react.

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Posted by Charles Wright