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Avast Academy Privacy Digital Life TikTok: Is It Safe and Should I Download It?

TikTok: Is It Safe and Should I Download It?

TikTok is one of the most popular social media apps, especially among young people. And like with other social media apps, privacy and security threats are a frequent topic of conversation. So, is TikTok safe? Learn how TikTok works, potential risks, and how to stay safer when using it. And no matter where you go online, get Avast One for powerful protection against hackers, scams, and other threats.

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Written by Molly Ebert
Published on June 14, 2024

The most common TikTok security risks

TikTok’s story began in 2016, when the Chinese company ByteDance launched a video app called Douyin. The following year, ByteDance spun off TikTok from Douyin and set it up for international release. By the spring of 2024, the app had been downloaded over four billion times, with 1.5 billion monthly active users.

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    And while TikTok, like other social media companies, has come under scrutiny for privacy concerns and potentially questionable data collection practices, its parent company ByteDance’s alleged ties to the Chinese government has given rise to a new set of national security concerns.

    Here’s a closer look at some of the most common TikTok security concerns:

    Privacy concerns

    TikTok has raised eyebrows due to the lack of end-to-end encryption for messages sent via the app, leaving users’ communications potentially vulnerable to hackers or eavesdroppers. But TikTok privacy issues don’t stop there; the app can also track a user’s approximate location, even with, apparently, device location services turned off. TikTok may also have limited data controls for removing personal information.

    Data collection

    Does TikTok steal data? No, because you give the app permission to collect it when you accept the terms and conditions. But you may be shocked at just how much data can be accessed as part of what TikTok calls Automatically Collected Information.

    This includes your:

    • IP address

    • Device type

    • Keystroke patterns and rhythms

    • Language preferences

    And with your express permission (which may be necessary for full functionality), TikTok can access your:

    • Exact location

    • Payment details

    • Social network connection information

    • Profile information

    TikTok has access to a wide range of personal data.TikTok has access to a wide range of personal data.

    Data sharing

    TikTok only shares information stated in its terms and conditions, but this includes sharing user data with third parties, including:

    • Advertisers

    • Business partners

    • Third-party apps

    If you’re concerned about the businesses, organizations, or individuals that may have access to your TikTok user data and want to take steps to protect your identity, use a breach monitoring tool like Avast BreachGuard that scours the web for personal information that may have leaked online.

    Scams

    Arguably one of the biggest dangers of TikTok isn’t intrinsic to the app but comes in the form of scammers operating on the platform. Sadly, this is common to all social media platforms. That's why one of the best ways to stay safe while enjoying the videos and community of TikTok is to know the types of scams you might encounter.

    Romance scams

    Romance scams involve fraudsters trying to create intense feelings of romance, intimacy, or friendly affection to manipulate a victim into giving money, gifts, or personal details. Some common romance scams are sugar daddy scams, military romance scams, and catfishing scams.

    Fame scams

    The possibility of becoming TikTok famous is a huge enticement for some people to create an account. Fame scammers, or “Follower Generators,” promise a ton of new followers or likes in exchange for money or personal info, even though this directly violates TikTok’s Terms of Service.

    Phishing scams

    By impersonating an official account, or even TikTok itself, phishing scammers try to dupe people into clicking malicious links or giving out personal information such as their account or financial details. TikTok will never send you an unsolicited message asking for your personal information, and if you do receive an email from TikTok make sure the email address ends with @tiktok.com.

    Get rich quick & job scams

    These scams rob victims by promising apparently lucrative investments — cryptocurrency is popular — or a job that requires very little work, after the payment of up-front “administrative” fees. Needless to say, the job or investment aren’t real. But the money sent by the victim is very real, and almost certainly unrecoverable.

    Fake giveaways

    Giveaways are a great way for businesses and organizations to engage with their audience on TikTok, so fake giveaways can be hard to spot. But all too often they’re simply ploys to trick users into clicking malicious links, resulting in identity theft or malware infections.

    Misinformation

    TikTok has developed into a major source of information for everything from makeup tutorials to breaking news. But, like on other social media platforms, user-generated content combined with a lack of editorializing or fact-checking has apparently made TikTok a hotbed of misinformation.

    And despite TikTok’s efforts to combat harmful misinformation, its algorithm may still play a role in boosting misleading claims or fake news in its curated “For You” feed. This leaves users with the burden of parsing credible information and reliable sources themselves — a real challenge for many who are still honing their digital literacy skills in an increasingly online world.

    Is TikTok safe for kids?

    Generally, TikTok can be safe for kids when a parent or guardian is involved in how they use the app. But as with all forms of social media and internet safety, it’s important to discuss and limit screen time with children, and make sure they're aware of the potential risks, scams, and misinformation they may encounter on the platform.

    With a recent study showing that 67% of US teens (aged 13-17) are using TikTok, it’s no wonder that child safety on the app has become a major part of public discourse. For its part, TikTok has been taking steps to safeguard younger users. In 2019 it partnered with the Family Online Safety Institute and released its Family Pairing feature, which allows parents to monitor and control the kind of content their kids are accessing.

    TikTok bans

    Countries that have banned or restricted TikTok.TikTok censorship around the world. Dark blue: no ban; light blue: bans on government devices; red: banned for everyone; pink: unavailable (Douyin used). Sources: Wikipedia, PBS

    Some countries including India, Afghanistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Nepal, have banned TikTok outright. In some jurisdictions, such as Iran, this is primarily due to the government’s strict regulation of online content. But other countries, such as India, have blocked the app apparently over concerns about its alleged ties to the Chinese government.

    These concerns stem from the fact that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in Shanghai and subject to national security legislation compelling Chinese companies to hand over data to the government when requested. And some governments even fear that China could manipulate TikTok to influence public opinion abroad or conduct intelligence operations.

    That is the case in some European countries and elsewhere, where governments have restricted or banned TikTok on government-issued devices. The US has gone further: not only is the short-form video-sharing app banned from federal devices, but a bill was passed by Congress and signed by US President Joe Biden that would force ByteDance to sell the app or risk TikTok being banned nation-wide.

    Countries that have restricted in some way TikTok usage on government devices include:

    • Australia

    • Austria

    • Belgium

    • Canada

    • Denmark

    • Estonia

    • France

    • Latvia

    • Malta

    • Netherlands

    • New Zealand

    • Norway

    • Taiwan

    • United Kingdom

    • United States

    History of TikTok security concerns

    TikTok security concerns haven’t appeared out of thin air. Here’s a rundown of some key events and incidents related to the question of whether TikTok is a safe social media platform.

    • 2019: The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined TikTok $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by allowing children to open TikTok accounts without parental consent.

    • 2020: The FTC was called on by outside organizations to start another investigation into allegations that TikTok was violating the terms of its FTC settlement and had not deleted user data relating to COPPA.

    • 2022: Forbes reported that ByteDance, as part of an internal task force known as Project Raven, tracked Forbes journalists using IP addresses and user data obtained from TikTok.

    • 2023: To quell data privacy concerns, TikTok proposed two new initiatives, Project Clover and Project Texas, in which data relating to US and European users would be sequestered, stored, and managed locally by third parties under US and EU jurisdiction. Recent reporting suggests that Project Texas has been “largely ineffective.”

    How do I stay safe on TikTok?

    Although the risks of putting yourself out there on social media can never be completely mitigated, you can help boost your TikTok online safety by practicing some basic online safety techniques that help combat hacking, cyberstalking, malware, and phishing threats.

    Here are steps you can take to stay safer on TikTok:

    • Set your account to “private.”

    • Use “restricted mode” or set your own content restrictions.

    • Never reuse passwords.

    • Use passkeys if available.

    • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA).

    • Report and delete suspicious messages/comments.

    • Don’t allow people to download your videos.

    • Never open unknown links.

    • Use a robust antivirus app.

    With Avast One, comprehensive real-time protection against malware and viruses is just the start thanks to advanced detection that automatically blocks malicious links and websites. Avast One also comes with a range of privacy tools including a built-in VPN.

    So, should I download TikTok?

    If you’re happy to accept the potential privacy and security risks that come with having any kind of social media presence, TikTok is relatively safe to download. Maybe you’re comfortable with the way TikTok collects and stores data and you want to get in on the action. Or perhaps TikTok privacy issues have given you pause and you want to deactivate or delete your account. Ultimately, the only person who can make that judgment is you.

    Safeguard your data, privacy, and personal information

    Navigating the nuances of the modern digital landscape and understanding the complexities of social media privacy and security issues can be disorienting. That’s where an automated security app comes in.

    Avast One is a comprehensive security and privacy app that helps you take control of your online safety with round-the-clock protection against online threats including malware, scams, and hackers. Get industry-leading protection today — completely free.

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    Digital Life
    Privacy
    Molly Ebert
    14-06-2024