TikTok Harvests Your Location, Contacts, Passwords, Cybersecurity Firm Reveals

TikTok Harvests Your Location, Contacts, Passwords, Cybersecurity Firm Reveals
TikTok app logo is seen in this illustration taken on Aug. 22, 2022. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)
Daniel Y. Teng

Chinese-backed social media giant TikTok has been accused of “excessive data harvesting” by cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0.

In a new report, the Australian-based firm found the popular music video app tracked the location of users every hour, accessed calendars and contacts, and also conducted “device mapping”—tracking what other apps were installed on a person’s phone.

“TikTok has access to contacts, and if the user denies access, it continuously requests for access until the user gives access,” the report stated.

“The application retrieves all other running applications on the phone. TikTok also gathers all applications that are installed on the phone. In theory, this information can provide a realistic diagram of your phone.”

Tom Kenyon, director at Internet 2.0 said TikTok harvested “more data than just about any other social media app.”

“If you’re a government person with sensitive contacts like ... the prime minister’s phone number, or you might just be an important part of defence ... they can know who your contacts are, who you’re sending texts to, they can know what devices you’re connecting with ...” he told 4BC radio.
Other details collected by TikTok include GPS information and access to clipboards, which contains stored passwords.

The Kids Are Not Alright

TikTok is the sixth most used app globally, gaining its huge market share by capturing the under-24 market.

Around 43.7 percent of its users are aged 18-24, while 31.9 percent fall into the 25- to 34-year-old age bracket.

The app claims to have nearly 150 million users in the United States, almost half the population.

However, Kenyon conceded that the younger population were oblivious to the dangers of sharing their personal data.

“Kids just don’t care. They do not care about their privacy,” he said.

Kenyon warned that there were two dangers that younger people should be aware of.

“One is the addictive nature of social media in general, and TikTok is very good at being addictive and getting you to watch it. Everyone seems to acknowledge that their algorithm seems to be one of the best in terms of getting you to keep coming back,” he said.

“The data that you have is valuable, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, it helps someone else build a picture about our society, about Western society,” he warned.

“In its worst form, we'd be cooperating with a foreign government to help change the way Australia does things. Now is that actually happening? Well, no one’s got any hard evidence on that, but it’s a possibility.”

US Considers Banning TikTok

The release of the report comes after TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew received a grilling from members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee over the company’s links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its data practices.

“CCP laws require Chinese companies like ByteDance to spy on their behalf,” Rodgers said. “That means any Chinese company must grant the CCP access and manipulation capabilities as a design feature.”

“TikTok surveils us all, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole. We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values.”

Chew attempted to distance TikTok from its China-based parent company ByteDance, despite himself having deep ties to the organisation, previously serving as its chief financial officer.

The U.S. Biden administration is exploring the possibility of forcing TikTok to be sold to an American company or banning the app from the United States completely due to national security concerns.

Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this article.
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].
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