On Tuesday, During his exclusive podcast on Spotify, Joe Rogan voiced concern that TikTok, one of the world’s most popular social media sites, would pose a unique threat to data privacy and security in the United States.
During the podcast, Rogan told his guest Theo Von:
“Oh my God! I read TikTok’s terms and services. I went down [a] TikTok rabbit hole yesterday. I stayed home, smoked a little weed, and started reading up on TikTok. Oh my God! I’m gonna read you this ’cause this is so crazy.”
“Is it good or bad?” his guest, podcaster, and comedian Theo Von, said.
“Bad!” Rogan replied.
“User agent, mobile carrier, time zone settings, identifiers for advertising purpose, model of your device, the device system, network type, device IDs, your screen resolution and operating system, app and file names and types,”.
“So all your apps and all your file names, all the things you have filed away on your phone, they have access to that,” he said. “‘File names and types, keystroke patterns or rhythms.”
“So they’re monitoring your keystrokes, which means they know every f***ing thing you type,” Rogan added.
“Battery state, audio settings, and connected audio devices, where you login from multiple devices, we will be able to use your profile information to identify your activity across devices. We may also associate you with information collected from devices other than those you use to log into the platform” Rogan said.
“Meaning they can use other computers that you’re not even using to log into TikTok. They can suck the data off that. That’s what you’re agreeing to when you download and start using TikTok,” Rogan said.
Von inquired of Rogan, “It’s absurd… Do you believe TikTok was developed on purpose to have all of that?”
“Absolutely,” Rogan replied.
Listening to the podcast had us wondering why Joe Rogan believes TikTok is a threat to our privacy. We mean, Joe has stirred controversies before. And isn’t TikTok all about harmless dance videos and mindless skits?
Is it all just baseless speculation based on America’s animosity towards the Chinese government or is there really a dark side to TikTok that China doesn’t want us to know?
So what data does TikTok collect from its users and is Joe Rogan onto something?
We wanted to find out as 60% of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24. 26% are between the ages of 25 and 44. And 18% are between the ages of 16 and 34. This information is obtained directly from TikTok.
What Information Does TikTok Collect?
Well, after doing a bit of research, we found that TikTok is owned by Bytedance, a Chinese company.
But that’s not what shocked us…
According to China’s Civil-Military Fusion Policy and the 2017 National Intelligence Law, private firms in China are required to disclose information and data to the Chinese government upon request.
The Chinese government can ask any private company to disclose any information they require and TikTok is no exception.
How absurd is that!
This statement couldn’t be farther from the truth as TikTok collects a whole lot of data, stores it for as long as it likes, and shares it with third parties.
The platform not only collects technical information but also behavioral information – even if you don’t create an account.
Here’s the information TikTok collects from your device when you access the platform:
- IP address
- Mobile carrier
- Time zone settings
- Identifiers for advertising purposes
- Model of your device
- The device system
- Network type
- Device IDs
- Screen resolution
- Operating system
- App and file names and types
- Keystroke patterns or rhythms
- Battery state
- Audio settings and connected audio devices
That’s not it. TikTok will be able to track your behavior across other devices if you log in from multiple devices.
While this statement may sound vague – as in how exactly it collects information from other devices and links them to individual users – it is clear that TikTok collects information from other devices, not used to sign in to TikTok, to gather data.
- User’s approximate location
- Location information based on SIM card or IP address
- Precise location data through GPS
To help users find their friends on the platform, TikTok requests access to their contact list or Facebook friends list.
This is a serious privacy risk since people frequently copy sensitive information such as passwords to their clipboards. TikTok can potentially access and gather such sensitive data as well.
TikTok not only collects all this information that we mentioned, it also shares it with third parties and uses it for advertising purposes.
It shares user data with:
- Cloud storage providers
- Business partners and other companies in the same group as TikTok
- Content moderation services
- Measurement providers
- Analytics providers
- Law enforcement agencies or regulators
Why does TikTok wanna track users so badly?
As Joe mentioned in his podcast to Von in his podcast, “It ends with China having all of your data”.
Rogan Warns That China Is ‘Stealing All Your Data’ and ‘Credit Card Numbers’
In the same podcast, Joe Rogan warned that Huawei, a Chinese technology giant, will allow other Chinese companies to steal intellectual property from American entrepreneurs and utilize it for their own gain.
Joe essentially hinted that TikTok may also be following the same course.
During the podcast, Rogan said:
“They [Huawei] have super complex smartphones. Huawei had some amazing phones that they were using… really like high-end phones. But they also had network devices that were stealing data. They were using them as spy devices,”.
He went on to say that Huawei is “100%” spying on Americans, citing recent revelations about the FBI’s concerns about the Chinese tech behemoth.
Rogan further said that the “FBI found Huawei equipment in Midwest could disrupt U.S. nuclear communications”. “This is some s— that they found out where the FBI director was talking about how bad the Chinese spying is on Americans, and he said it’s bigger than every other country combined.”
“Why do they want to spy on us?” Rogan’s guest, Theo Von, inquired.
Rogan responded by saying: “Stealing intellectual property, stealing all your data, stealing credit card numbers, stealing where you’re going, tracking you, if you’re criticizing the Chinese government,”.
To further stress his concern over Huawei stealing data and tracking users, Rogan said this to this guest: “Maybe you develop something. You develop some new innovative technology, but you develop it using an internet that’s connected with Huawei devices or some other device that the Chinese government has infiltrated and put third party access to.”
He further added: “So they infiltrate all of your secrets and when you go to market they’ve already created it. So they already have put people to work building the thing that you have worked so hard to develop. They put engineers on it, and they do it,” Rogan continued. “So all of our intellectual property, all of our creative pursuits in terms of innovation, they steal all that and build it over there.”
With obvious privacy concerns, TikTok may also get banned in the US just like Huawei. If you aren’t aware, in November, US President Joe Biden approved legislation prohibiting Huawei and ZTE from obtaining network equipment licenses in the country. The former United States President Donald Trump wanted to prohibit TikTok, citing national security concerns, however, it still has legal rights to operate in the US.
TikTok Authorizes Itself to Gather Biometric Data From US Users, Including “Faceprints and Voiceprints”
One thing that Rogan didn’t mention in his podcast that we wanted to bring to our readers’ attention is that TikTok can also collect biometric information about its users.
Although the policy states that TikTok may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information as defined by US law, such as faceprints and voiceprints from User Content where required by law, and that they will seek any required permissions from users prior to any such collection, the statement itself is still concerning as only a few states in the United States have biometric privacy legislation in place, including Illinois, Washington, California, Texas, and New York.
It is worth noting, however, that the announcement about biometric data gathering comes on the heels of a $92 million settlement in a class action lawsuit launched against TikTok in May 2020 over the social networking app’s violation of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.
Even without biometric data, TikTok possesses a lot of information on its users, their content, and their gadgets which we covered in detail in our investigation earlier.
How Do I Make My TikTok Account Less Public?
Teens who use TikTok may be unaware of how much personal information they are providing or the implications of that information being exposed. That is why it is important for parents and families to understand how to assist younger users in making their accounts more private.
Here’s how you can make your TikTok account less public:
- Change the account setting to “private.”
- Deactivate “suggest your account to others.”
- Change your preferences for who can send you direct messages.
- Change who can download and see your favorite videos.
- Change the parameters for who can comment, react, and duet on your split image videos.
Impact of TikTok’s Policy on User Data
TikTok is among the world’s most downloaded apps. However, it is owned by the Chinese internet technology company ByteDance.
Data leaks are not uncommon, and many people are concerned that if such information is mishandled, it will find itself in the wrong hands one day. TikTok is notorious for violating privacy policies.
Another risk for ByteDance is that the company may one day be obliged to share such biometric information with the government by China’s ruling communist party. The one hundred million Americans who use the app once a month may be alarmed to learn that their data may be used for malicious purposes such as re-identifying individuals without their knowledge or spying by a foreign government.
We believe that such information does not belong in the hands of a single private corporation with communist party members working in its headquarters in China’s capital. However, no one knows for certain whether TikTok poses a national security risk.
Based on our research, TikTok’s US counterparts have repeatedly stated that they have not been asked to share any information with the Chinese government and would not agree to do so if approached by the Chinese government.
If you don’t trust TikTok, remove it from your device and make sure you have sufficient security protection installed on all of your linked devices. Hackers prefer simple targets but you can avoid becoming a victim by installing a simple online privacy tool like a VPN on your smartphone.
VPNs provide a variety of security, anonymity, and privacy capabilities that secure your data while you browse the web. VPN, for example, uses security protocols to create a secure tunnel through which your data can transit, preventing it from being spied on by third parties. We recommend using Surfshark which offers AES-256-GCM encryption, Kill switch, Private DNS & leak protection, MultiHop, blocks ads, trackers, and malware.
Though we must explicitly mention that VPNs can’t unfortunately offer protection from TikTok’s mass data collection.
VPNs can help secure our online privacy when we use a browser to access the Internet. As a result, anyone wishing to safeguard their anonymity while using TikTok should do so via a browser and a VPN. When we do this, our communication is routed through an encrypted server, making it harder for third parties to see who we are or what we’re doing, including the social networks we use.
Avoid downloading and using these networks’ proprietary apps, which can collect information regardless of whether you use a VPN, to ensure privacy when using an app like TikTok.