"The TikTok Controversy: What You Need to Know About Your Privacy and the Ban on Government-Issued Devices"

TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps worldwide, but concerns about the app's data collection practices have led several governments to ban it from government-issued devices. The U.S., EU, and Canada have all implemented this ban, and other Canadian institutions are considering similar measures. But what about the millions of users who are not government employees? What does TikTok know about them, and how transparent is the app about its data collection?

TikTok's terms of service state that the app can access personal data such as contacts, calendars, device information, location, and the content users engage with. However, cybersecurity experts are particularly concerned about the sheer amount of data that TikTok gathers and the lack of transparency around its data collection practices, especially in light of the app's Chinese ownership. TikTok can also monitor how users use their devices, including keystroke patterns, battery state, and audio settings, and it can identify objects, scenery, faces, bodies, and spoken words in videos.

While social media apps use analytics to sell advertising, develop new versions of programs, and tailor content to users' habits, TikTok has been identified as "an outlier in the sheer amount of data it collects." The app can collect "precise" GPS location data from users, which is much more precise than the company had previously admitted. The app's Chinese ownership and the possibility that the Chinese government could access user data have led to concerns among cybersecurity experts.

The app has also been criticized for acquiring a device's Media Access Control (MAC) address, a unique identifier that does not change even if a phone is reset and all personal information is wiped. Douyin, the Chinese version of the app, acquired MAC addresses, but TikTok claims it does not. However, a 2020 report in the Wall Street Journal found that TikTok had skirted a privacy safeguard in Google's Android operating system to gather MAC addresses from millions of devices for over a year.

In conclusion, while TikTok is immensely popular, concerns about its data collection practices have led to bans on government-issued devices in several countries. The app gathers an enormous amount of user data and lacks transparency about its practices, especially given its Chinese ownership. Users need to be aware of what TikTok is collecting and how it uses their data.

Source: CBC


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