Is TikTok safe? Understand how application data collection works

TikTok, the most downloaded app of 2020, has a privacy policy that has caused a stir in recent years. Produced by the Chinese company ByteDance, the application demands access to numerous information from its users, such as personal preferences for content, phone model, and, in some cases, even the direct messages exchanged by the social network. Techidence compiled a list of the main data collected and processed by the app. In the following lines, check out 8 things that TikTok knows about you.

It is worth remembering that all the information published here is available directly on the app’s website, in TikTok’s privacy policy. Also, it is important to note that, although it does robustly collect data from users, the Chinese video app is not alone in doing so. Social networks like WhatsApp and Facebook, for example, do very similar collections of information from their consumers. Data such as cell phone model and usage behavior, for example, are typically collected by most apps available in the Google Play Store and App Store.

1. Your personal preferences

TikTok has access to your behavior information on the social network, such as the videos you like and the words you search for in the app, for example. In addition, data such as your frequency of use and the ads you watch are also collected. According to the app’s privacy policy, this information is used to optimize the app’s algorithm and provide a more “customized” user experience.

This kind of data often works as a feed into machine learning. Social networks like Instagram, Facebook, etc, for example, also make this kind of use of this information. This is why the more you use TikTok, the more personalized the content that appears to you becomes. So if you give out likes on videos of dogs and cats, for example, you will tend to get more and more clips with similar themes.

Moreover, more than just serving to personalize content, this kind of information is also applied to the practice of ads. This is because TikTok – just like Facebook, Instagram, and other popular social networks – directs your feed to specific advertisements based on your usage of the platform.

2. Your cell phone contact list

More than just your personal taste, TikTok can also access your cell phone contact list. That’s because when it comes time to create your account, you have the option to search for friends to follow on the app, and by selecting that alternative, you need to grant the app access to your contacts saved on your smartphone. Although it sounds invasive, other social networks, such as Facebook itself, are also adept at this practice.

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If you do not want to share this information with the app, just go into your smartphone settings and disable the option to share contacts. However, it is worth remembering that if you have created your account from another network, like Facebook or even Gmail, for example, this data will be shared with TikTok automatically.

3. Information about your operating system and internet network


Besides collecting information about your contacts and their behavior, TikTok also knows details about the device you use to access the app, and even the internet network you are connected to. While this collection may seem invasive, it is commonplace among apps. Networks such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, for example, are also adept at this practice.

This information includes the model and the serial number of the device, as well as the audio and video settings used on the device. It is used to personalize the app experience, and also acts as an even more robust way to target ads to the user. More than just that, they are used in the advertising reports delivered to the app’s advertisers – a practice that is also adopted by other social networks.

4. Your location


Using your IP address, which is automatically shared with the app, TikTok also gets access to your approximate location. This has a direct impact on the use of the app, since it defines, for example, the type of content that is shown on your timeline. Because of this, if you live in the United States and travel to Portugal, for example, the app will try to show videos from Portuguese content producers on your timeline as well.

Furthermore, if granted by the user, the app can also know your exact location. This request is made by the app the first time it is opened, and the option can be changed at any time via the cell phone settings.

On iPhone (iOS), simply go to “Settings”, search for TikTok and check the app’s accesses. On Android, go to Settings, go to Applications and select TikTok from the list of apps on your phone. Then, press the “Permissions” option and tap on “Location” to deny TikTok access to your location.

The collection of this type of information, like several others shown in this list, is not unique to the Chinese app. Other very popular apps, such as Instagram and the games Fortnite and Free Fire, for example, also collect this data using your IP address.

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5. Information about your followers and who interacts with you

This is another type of collection quite usual to other social networks – mainly, to Facebook and Instagram. In direct lines, TikTok analyzes the users who follow your account and also checks how their interaction with your videos works. This, according to the app’s privacy policy, serves to personalize the content shown in the For You feed.

According to TikTok’s data policy, this data is also used to customize ads and advertising in general, both for you and your followers.

6. Your information from other social networks


If you have created your TikTok account using another social network, such as Facebook, for example, the Chinese app has access to your public information on Mark Zuckerberg’s app. This includes data such as email, date of birth, gender, phone number, and even more sensitive issues such as sexual orientation and religious preference.

Moreover, because Facebook’s privacy policy also allows data sharing with third-party apps, your behavior in the US app can be shared with TikTok. Thus, if you choose this login format, information such as the type of advertising you consume on Facebook and Instagram, for example, is shared with the Chinese app. It is worth noting that this data has a direct impact on the personalization of content and ads that appear in your feed.

7. The objects and lines in your videos


The content published on TikTok goes through a few different types of analysis – among them, the identification of objects and scenarios, for example. In addition, the app can check “the existence and location of face and body in an image,” as well as “the nature of the audio and the text of spoken words.” It is worth remembering that eventually what is said or written in these videos may configure as sensitive data – which can only be handled in specific cases, such as legal obligations, for example.

It is worth remembering, however, that TikTok is not the only app that collects this type of data. Facebook applications, such as Instagram, analyze images and videos produced with the app’s camera to verify its location, for example – which can also pose risks to users’ privacy.

8. Your direct messages in the app

Although TikTok’s privacy policy is generally quite similar to that of other apps, the Chinese app’s data handling also has its peculiarities. One of them is the access to users’ direct messages on the platform, which includes even analysis of the content they talk about.

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According to the Chinese social network, this is valid only for countries that allow this type of data processing – such as China, for example.

As explained in TikTok’s privacy policy, this information collection would have several different purposes, such as preventing spam or possible terrorist actions, for example.

Are there risks in this data collection?

The main risks of these collections are related to the misuse of personal data or even security incidents. These accidents (such as leaks, for example) may end up exposing a huge amount of information about a person’s life. In addition, they can also result in common practices of cybercriminals, such as identity theft and different types of fraud, for example.


The expert also sees an even greater risk in relation to the data of teenagers – who, at TikTok, represent a large portion of users. This is because, in cases of security incidents, this exposure can lead to malicious attacks or even exposure of the geolocation of this specific audience – which can represent a risk both online and offline. More than just this, there is also the concern with targeted advertising, which can serve to manipulate behavior.

Furthermore, about the young public it is important to consider that, because social network platforms are oriented to make the user spend more time scrolling the feed, this can work as a counterpoint to the development of adolescents, since it would stimulate them to spend more time online. It is important to remember that all of these concerns are also valid for other platforms, such as Instagram and Kwai, for example.

The Chinese video platform includes in its privacy policy a specific treatment for teenagers’ data. Thus, the app must work to collect as little information as possible about this audience, and everything that is collected should be used for their “best interest” – to the detriment, for example, of the interests of the company and its advertisers.

Finally, it is worth remembering that these risks are not only possible with TikTok. Other apps, like Facebook itself, for example, also collect data, and therefore can also have these flaws or security incidents. That is why it is important to always check the access the apps have on your devices, and if you find any clause in the different privacy policies that you do not like, you should contact the apps directly.

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