TikTok and identity theft: Is TikTok stealing your online identity?

By David Lukić

Updated Oct 27, 2020 at 08:53 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

This is a hot topic, which is being debated all over the US and beyond at the moment, as people start to become suspicious amid TikTok’s less-than-perfect policies and history of not protecting peoples’ details particularly well.

This issue is not only present in the US, but also in almost all the countries in the world. India is such an example, not only has India banned TikTok already, they also have banned many other Chinese social media platforms. Many countries are following in the footsteps of India regarding the banning of the app, most notably, the US.

What is TikTok and why are people suspecting that they are spying on the people?

TikTok is a social media platform for short videos, very similar in concept to Vine, the platform that was run by Twitter in the 2010s. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance and this has led to some suspicion regarding their allegiances.

TikTok quickly became the new social media sensation where the platform grew rapidly and became a giant. Today, almost every teenager and young adult have the application on their phone.

TikTok’s privacy policy has revealed flaws in the past, exposing peoples’ email addresses and other social media accounts and making people concerned that they aren’t taking people’s privacy seriously enough.

On top of this, the US government has become very suspicious, and ProtonMail has created a report which states that the app “cooperates with the CCP” in order to control data beyond the borders of China.

Why would TikTok do this and what would it gain from it?

Politically, there are a lot of different factors that go into international relations and people have different theories on why the Chinese would want this, but amid tense international relationships with the US, it makes sense that they would look to collect details. The accusations are that the app is spying on citizens. It undeniably takes a lot more personal information than many apps including key-stroke patterns.

Identity theft is a serious issue on an individual basis or institutionalised via apps like this which collect details that people are not comfortable with. Did you know that 1.7 million fraud-related identity theft claims were made in 2019? Consumer losses were also estimated at billions of dollars, which is a huge hit to the economy. To add on all of this, statistics on identity theft prove that Americans are afraid of the issue and it is very common, most notably in the US. It all goes to show how much identity theft is on the rise, and the fact that everyone needs to be incredibly careful in order to protect their data.

A security breach from TikTok could lead to millions of people having their data stolen, and this puts the hackers, or the CCP, in a position of power.

Even if your identity doesn’t get stolen, a lot of people are really not comfortable with the idea of so much being publicly available. On top of this, profiles on TikTok are also public by default, so a huge amount of people report unsolicited contact from strangers, some of whom might be out to scam you in one way or another. The app is popular among children so this is even more of an issue. Don’t leave any account vulnerable.

What does this mean to your online security and your identity security?

Considering some of the leaks that have occurred historically from TikTok, people are not just worried about what the company itself could do, but they are also worried about the vulnerability of the data they share and a number of hackers could take advantage.

The amount of information that you will have shared when creating your account means that if it ends up in the wrong hands, you could find yourself having to worry about a case of ID theft. If not, you will still have to consider a lot of the different aspects of privacy and whether you really want your keystroke data and other personal information being made available.

How can we protect ourselves if these claims are valid?

The top tip is to not get a TikTok account if you are concerned, and certainly do not link your account to other social media. However, it could be a bit too late! You might already have an account, in which case your data might be compromised.

Identity monitoring is something a lot of people find themselves turning to for a little more protection. These services can help to stop your data from getting shared in places you simply do not want it. For instance, if your personal information is on the dark web, an Identity Monitoring service could be a way to ensure that you will be notified if your information has leaked and take action to avoid the potential repercussions of this.

What does this mean for the future of the app?

All of the suspicions around TikTok has meant that there is a lot of uncertainty on the future of the app. The US has threatened to ban the app, but TikTok is updating its privacy policy all the time and seems to be falling closer in line with what the rest of the world needs from their policies and protection. This could lead to the app staying on the market, but people are still rather concerned about whether or not their data is safe, and the political affiliations of TikTok.

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