OPINION | TikTok’s dark side includes privacy invasion at its finest

Some students were concerned about individuals’ privacy when they use TikTok. Miki Akiyama | Sun News Daily

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Deep beneath the controversial pop culture happenings covering the “For You” page of TikTok lies a deeper danger hidden within all of our phones.

In fact, the rapidly-growing social media app has many dangers.

Many of these problems we are aware of and others we just ignore. As for the other long list of problems; well, those all lie within the privacy agreement none of us read before downloading TikTok.

In a Joe Rogan’s podcast, he read TikTok’s Privacy Policy and broke down the information for listeners to better understand them. In the policy, he found many unsettling things we automatically agree to sharing with TikTok when downloading the app. These are a few of those things: 

  • Device information: TikTok has access to our IP address, mobile carrier, model of the device, screen resolution, app and file names and network type.
  • Location data: TikTok collects information about our approximate location. 
  • App behavior: TikTok keeps track of our keystroke patterns and rhythms. 

To dive deeper into what our keystroke patterns and rhythms entail, it means TikTok can track how long users hover over certain videos, how quickly users scroll past videos, how many times a user views something, what time of the day users watch TikTok, and how long a user’s viewing sessions are.

Although TikTok’s executives have stated its prime use of collecting keystroke patterns to personalize user experience and improve the accuracy of content recommendations, I feel uncomfortable with the level of data collection involved. This level seems excessive, especially because our keystroke patterns outside of the app can be tracked along with everything we type. 

Our keystroke patterns being collected is scary, but what’s scarier is the information taken if we give TikTok permission. Because TikTok’s policies are not transparent, many of us do not know what we are agreeing to and simply click “agree” to participate in the addictive scrolling TikTok has provided for its users.

In Rogan’s podcast, he said with special permission, TikTok has access to: 

  • Information including texts, images and videos found in a device’s clipboard
  • Purchase information including payment card numbers or other third-party payment information
  • A device’s social network contacts
  • Audio settings

Knowing people within TikTok have the ability to listen in on my conversations and view my text messages, photos and other personal information is very unsettling, especially if my information falls into the wrong hands. 

The fact that TikTok has been banned in many other countries including India and Afghanistan should tell us something about the dangers of using the app. I mean, even China doesn’t allow TikTok to operate within its country which is interesting because Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company, has its headquarters in Beijing, China.

United States officials even considered banning TikTok back in 2020, and their failure to do so was a big mistake. Luckily, the United States banned TikTok on all federally owned government devices back in 2022 to reduce the risk of China having access to government user data. 

Many people argue TikTok is a way for China to spy on us. I wholeheartedly agree. There have been allegations that TikTok is sharing user data with the Chinese government. This is very concerning given China’s strict censorship laws and its history of using technology to monitor its citizens. 

Whether China is using this app to spy on us is unknown, but doesn’t all of this privacy being taken away from us feel unethical and wrong? 

TikTok is addictive. In fact, it’s the most addictive app out there, and that’s why it’s my favorite. TikTok’s algorithm is specifically designed for people to spend hours on end in the app. The more time spent on the app reflects how many ads someone views and how much money those views can make the company. It does its job well when it comes to encouraging procrastination and useless scrolling. Luckily, there are safer and less invasive alternatives. 

Rather than allowing TikTok to continually invade our privacy, let’s go back to the time when Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts were the go-to platforms for short-form video content.

Consider deleting TikTok. The app is doing us no good. The short-term happiness it provides is a disguise for the corrupt amount of information it steals. TikTok is making millions of dollars off of our information, and we aren’t getting a single penny. It is time to take our money and time back and put it toward something better.