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Is TikTok Bad for Your Data Privacy? Let‘s Take a Close Look

TikTok‘s explosive growth has put it under the microscope when it comes to data privacy. With over 1 billion monthly active users as of 2022, TikTok has an astounding reach. But is all that data collection putting your privacy at risk? In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll analyze what information TikTok gathers, how they use it, and most importantly – steps you can take to better safeguard your data.

Just How Much Data Does TikTok Collect?

The amount of user data siphoned by TikTok is extensive based on its privacy policy documents:

User-provided data

This includes personal details like your name, age, email, phone number, and any content you post such as videos, captions, comments, and messages. TikTok also compiles your payment information if you opt for in-app purchases.

Automatically-gathered data

Behind the scenes, TikTok gathers your specific device data like time zone, resolution, model, audio settings, and more. It tracks your IP address to determine location, down to precise GPS coordinates in some cases. Most invasively, TikTok also admits to collecting biometric data like faceprints and voiceprints.

Third-party data

TikTok rounds out its profile of you via integrating data from platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Google. This provides info on your public profiles, browsing history, cookie/ad identifiers, and more.

The latest statistics on TikTok‘s data collection:

  • Over 80 million videos are uploaded every day (DataReportal)
  • There are over 1.2 billion video views per day (Wallaroo Media)
  • As of 2022, the average user spends 95 minutes per day on TikTok (BusinessofApps)

That‘s an immense amount of content and engagement happening – and data being generated. But how does TikTok actually leverage all this data?

How Does TikTok Use Your Data?

Primarily, TikTok relies on user data to enhance its algorithms for recommending content, power its advertising systems, improve core functionality, and develop the app experience.

Per its privacy policy, TikTok may share user data with a wide range of third parties, including:

  • Customer and technical support vendors
  • Service providers for data processing/analytics
  • Researchers
  • Advertising and marketing partners

TikTok states data is shared to provide users with support, fulfill transactions, conduct research, and serve relevant advertising.

In response to ongoing privacy concerns, TikTok proposed "Project Texas" in 2022 to migrate US user data storage to Oracle servers based in the US. The goal is to limit access to data by TikTok employees outside the US. It‘s too soon to evaluate effectiveness, but it aims to reassure American users.

TikTok vs. Other Platforms: A Data Collection Comparison

How does TikTok‘s data mining stack up against major players like Facebook, Instagram, and Google?

Independent privacy audits consistently find TikTok‘s data practices are largely comparable to other social media platforms:

  • Facebook collects user-provided data like posts, messages, search history, and detailed profiles. It also gathers extensive behavioral, location, demographic, and ad data (Electronic Frontier Foundation).
  • Instagram similarly compiles content, messages, location tags, stories, extensive behavioral data, and more (TermsFeed).
  • Google ingest billions of data points including search queries, browsing history, location, voice commands, app use, emails, and more (SafetyDetectives).

Key areas where TikTok stands out:

  • Amount of biometric data collection
  • Granularity of location tracking
  • Inability for independent researchers to audit actual data practices

So while TikTok gathers a vast amount of private information into its databases, its scope does not seem drastically broader than leading alternatives. But there are still steps you can take to boost your data privacy.

5 Ways to Protect Your Privacy on TikTok

Limiting data collection on your account improves privacy:

  1. Make Your Account Private

This restricts visibility to only approved followers, reducing outside access.

  1. Disable Messages/Comments from Strangers

Avoid phishing scams and harassment by only allowing friends to message and comment.

  1. Turn Off Suggestions to Others

Opt out of TikTok recommending your account to new users.

  1. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

Add 2FA to require an additional step to login, even if your password is compromised.

  1. Use a VPN

A VPN encrypts all activity on your device and masks your IP address from tracking.

Examining Expert Opinions on TikTok Privacy

Data privacy researchers have mixed opinions on how concerned TikTok users should be:

  • "TikTok’s data collection practices are quite excessive, invasive, and concerning." – Sean O‘Brien, Yale Privacy Lab (Forbes)
  • "People should be just as concerned about apps like Facebook and Instagram." – Connor Huff, privacy researcher (Washington Post)
  • "There is no evidence TikTok poses greater risks than alternative social media platforms." – Jon Clay, cybersecurity director at Trend Micro (CNET)

More transparency from TikTok itself would help evaluate actual data practices versus documented policies. But reasonable precautions are prudent no matter what platforms you use.

Your Top TikTok Privacy Questions – Answered

Can TikTok track you when the app isn‘t open?

Potentially yes, through identifiers like advertising IDs that can monitor activity across apps and websites. Using a VPN blocks this type of tracking.

Does TikTok sell user data?

TikTok‘s privacy policy does not indicate it directly sells data. However, extensive data sharing with third parties occurs. TikTok states these practices comply with applicable laws.

Can you use TikTok privately?

Making your account private limits visibility. But data collection still occurs, so adjusting settings and using a VPN provide more comprehensive privacy.

Is TikTok safe for kids?

Enabling Family Pairing gives parents control over content visibility and account settings. But data collection persists, so full privacy is difficult.

Can you get hacked on TikTok?

Like all social media, hacking is a risk if you have a weak password or reuse passwords across accounts. Enabling two-factor authentication adds critical account security.

The Bottom Line: Evaluate Your Privacy Priorities

TikTok amasses tremendous amounts of user data – but likely no more than leading competitors like Facebook or Google. While TikTok raises some distinct concerns, current research shows its data mining practices are largely equivalent to other social media.

For individuals with high privacy sensitivities, avoiding TikTok may be the safest option. But for most casual users, taking reasonable precautions like strong passwords, limiting account visibility, and using a VPN significantly improves privacy.

In our data-driven world, achieving total privacy is unrealistic. But understanding how platforms like TikTok leverage your data, and taking proactive steps to limit this, allows you to make informed choices about your online activities.


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.