Does TikTok Continue Collecting Personal Information?

Following recent reports by cybersecurity experts that TikTok has embedded JavaScript keylogging within its mobile applications, there needs to be a serious and swift call for increased privacy regulations in the United States and abroad to deal with the serious risks posed by the viral app.

Keylogging is the act of recording a user’s activity, in this case on a mobile application, by logging every keystroke and screen tap.  TikTok has come out and denied logging information, going as far as saying this is a feature in the app that is not currently being utilized.  If that was truly the case, why have keylogging code within the application at all then?

While on the surface this may sound innocent and many users simply assume a mobile application developer can already see this data within their application, the larger concern is what goes on within TikTok’s built in-app browser.

In-app browsers are nothing new – they were created as a means of allowing users to have a more seamless experience and remain within a specific mobile application when clicking onto an external hyperlink.  However in the case of TikTok, the keylogging within their app would also keylog mobile app user’s behavior within their in-app browser.  This means that TikTok not only has the means of monitoring and keylogging what you are doing within their native application, but also what you are doing within their in-app web browser.

This opens up a whole host of security concerns as to what data TikTok may be collecting.  Just a few examples that come to mind are passwords, login credentials, financial information such as bank accounts and credit card numbers, security questions, and the list goes on and on.

It’s bad enough that this data is potentially being keylogged, however that is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the privacy concerns around TikTok.  TikTok has become the first viral social media application that is not based in or developed in the United States.  Nearly all of TikTok’s predecessors, including all the way back to MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and countless others, are all either owned by US companies or developed in the US.  TikTok is owned and developed in China, and even more concerning, TikTok’s parent company is partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party.  This potentially provides one of our largest international enemies with inside access into our personal daily lives, business trade information, government secrets, and much, much more.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, it still gets worse.  Where is this massive amount of data being stored and how is it being protected?  Just some weeks ago, TikTok was reported to have suffered a major data breach, exposing millions of records and personal information.  Was part of that breach inclusive of this keylogging data?  While we likely will never know the truth, we can only assume the worst.

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The data privacy and security risks with TikTok are crystal clear, and unfortunately this isn’t a new issue.  For the past several years, lawmakers in Washington DC have been sounding the alarm on TikTok and the national security risk the application poses.  Yet like many things in Washington, little to nothing has actually been done about it.   This isn’t an issue that impacts the left or right side of the aisle, it’s an issue that impacts every single American and frankly everyone around the globe.

One of my businesses develops mobile applications on behalf of our clients, and anytime a new application is submitted to the app stores, it undergoes scrutiny by Apple and Google.  Apple and Google ensure the app meets a wide array of their requirements, including having clear privacy policies, clear disclaimers on information collected in the app, scans for malware and other viruses, and numerous other checks before they can be listed for public consumption.  However in the case of TikTok, why wasn’t this keylogging flagged as a privacy concern or violation by Apple or Google?

In order to remedy this issue once and for all, politicians in Washington need to understand the seriousness of one of our largest foreign enemies having access to literally any information they could possibly want through a simple viral social app. TikTok should, at a bare minimum, come with a warning when downloaded to users alerting them that the application has a history of engaging in questionable data collection and storage practices.  This is something Apple and Google could implement immediately on their own, yet haven’t.  In fact, Apple and Google could easily flag this application and remove it from their app stores for the violations alleged against TikTok with their data collection and data privacy practices.

 

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**This guest article is wholly written by the contributing author and represents his own personal views and thoughts, this article is an external guest contribution and not a piece by the MarTechSeries or iTechSeries staff.

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