Everyone is using it, but is TikTok truly safe?
TikTok has just about everything for everybody, whether you’re looking to catch up on the latest social-media trends, follow your favorite celebrities, or just watch creative people showcase their talents. You can create your own content and post it there, too, which is probably the reason it’s such a big hit.
As is always the case with social-media platforms, there are certain risks to consider before signing up. As digital security experts, it is our job to help you understand those risks and tell you whether a site is safe. So, is TikTok safe to use? Read on for our findings.
Is TikTok Safe?
As far as social-media platforms go, TikTok is safe — but there are some caveats! The app doesn’t contain malware and it doesn’t steal its users’ personal information, but that’s not to say using TikTok doesn’t come with any risks. Our home is safe, but we still use a home security system. In the same manner, TikTok is safe, but you should still exercise caution when using it — especially since there are ill-intentioned users who are on TikTok to take advantage of others.
TikTok Scams: What Are They?
We’re not badmouthing TikTok. The scam tactics fraudsters use don’t come from the company itself, but rather from its users. Unfortunately, that’s expected of any social-media platform. Even the Federal Trade Commission acknowledges that social media is a gold mine for scammers.1 Knowing what to avoid will go a long way toward keeping you from falling victim to these scams.
Here are a few examples of what to look out for:
- Romance scams: A complex form of social engineering, fraudsters who use romance scams will trick you into engaging in an online relationship with them using a fake account. Once they’ve gained your trust, they’ll borrow money (without any intention of paying it back) or ask for your personally identifiable information under the pretext of getting to know you better. TikTok actually warned its users ahead of Valentine’s Day this year about this type of scam2.
- Scam apps: Once in a while, you’ll come across accounts that promote apps accompanied by an intriguing or enticing video. In most cases, their posts come with a download link, but don’t be fooled — those links will lead you to phishing or malware sites. The sneakier scam apps will actually download to your phone, but those apps contain malware. That’s why we recommend using a device with good antivirus software when browsing the platform, even though TikTok itself doesn’t contain malware.
- More likes and followers: If you’re an aspiring social-media influencer, you may be enticed to engage with posts claiming to give you more likes and followers in exchange for money or you doing something in return. There’s no shortcut to fame, so those posts are likely from scammers who are after your money or personal information.
- Phishing: Phishing scams have existed almost as long as emails have. With the emergence of social-media sites like TikTok, they’ve evolved as well. If you see posts or comments asking you to click a link — especially if there’s no context — you better not click the link. They are likely going to redirect you to a phishing website that is out to get sensitive information from you, such as your login credentials.
- Cryptocurrency investment scams: This is much harder to distinguish, because there are actual accounts that offer legitimate cryptocurrency investments to people looking to grow their crypto portfolio. Just know that not all cryptocurrency investments are legitimate and you should do a thorough background check before engaging with such accounts.
These TikTok scams are just examples. As content creators on TikTok become more creative, so do scammers and fraudsters. To stay updated, check our page on the latest internet scams.
TikTok and Your Privacy
What Data Does TikTok Collect?
- Personal information: TikTok will keep any personal information you disclose when you create an account, such as your username, password, birthday, email address, phone number, or anything you disclose in your profile bio. It will also save your profile photo or video, so TikTok will know what you look like if you put your face on there.
- User content: TikTok also knows and remembers the content you create and view, including your language preferences, the audio and video you upload or create, and even your comments and livestreams.
- Behavioral information: TikTok follows your activity across the app. It takes note of the videos you view and save in My Favorites, and it uses those to recommend accounts to follow and videos to include on your For You page. It also profiles you based on your interests, gender, ad views, and other factors.
- Information from third parties: TikTok may receive information about you from third-party platforms you cross-use with TikTok. If you sign up using Facebook, for example, TikTok will receive and store your public profile information.
- Technical information: On the technical end, TikTok logs information about its users’ devices and network, including IP addresses, device IDs, mobile carriers, operating system, and a whole lot more. Basically, TikTok will know what device and network you’re browsing from.
- Location: By default, TikTok knows your approximate location using your IP address and SIM card, but if you grant permission it can also track your precise location using your device’s GPS.
- In-app purchases: You can buy virtual items from TikTok, but such purchases are done through the App Store or Google Play, so TikTok won’t see your payment information. It does log, however, records of purchases you make, the time of purchase, and the amount you spent.
- Proof of identity: To use certain features or to have your account verified, TikTok may ask you to send proof of identity or date of birth, such as a photo of your ID.
Does TikTok Share Data With Others?
With that much information about its users, it’s natural to wonder how TikTok uses what it knows and whether it shares any data with third parties. TikTok generally uses user data to improve its services, but the company does admit to sharing data with third-parties.
- Business partners: Other social-media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google, can see some of your data from TikTok, including your app ID and access tokens.
- Service providers: TikTok uses third-party service providers to maintain its services. Cloud service providers and content-moderation services are prime examples. These third-party services may also gain access to some of your information.
- Payment providers: As the middlemen when you transact with TikTok, payment providers will see some of your purchase records in order to facilitate transactions.
- Analytics providers: The data analytics services TikTok uses can see relevant data about TikTok and its users.
- Law enforcement: Whenever necessary according to law, TikTok may share user data with law-enforcement agencies.
- Advertisers: Like most social media platforms, TikTok works with advertisers for analytics, ad targeting, and activity tracking.
TikTok’s Data Storage and Security
TikTok wasn’t super specific about its data-security practices, which we didn’t find comforting at all. We looked for past breaches involving TikTok, though, and we didn’t find any. There was one in August 2020 that exposed the user profiles of over 200 million TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube users, but it wasn’t the result of a TikTok security breach. Instead, it was from a data-scraping company that left the records exposed. Data scraping breaks TikTok’s terms of service.
TikTok From a Privacy Perspective: Is It Safe?
FYI: TikTok is based in Singapore, but there hasn’t been any proof that it has ties to the Chinese government.
Should You Let Your Kids Use TikTok?
TikTok does its share in preventing these types of dangers on its platform, but since it’s a global network, it’s incapable of completely stopping malevolent users from committing cyberbullying and child identity theft. As stopgaps, TikTok offers certain features and privacy settings that can help your kids be less likely to become targets.
- Private account: By default, accounts belonging to users under the age of 16 are set to private, which means the user can approve or deny follower requests. Only followers of a private account can see its content.
- Direct messaging: Users can send direct messages, or DMs, through TikTok, but only users over the age of 16 can use the feature.
- Duet and stitching: Other TikTok users can use your content and give it their own spin by putting their video side-by-side with yours (dueting) or splicing their own video into yours (stitching). You can set who can duet or stitch with your content (everyone, friends, or only you), but these features are both set to “only you” for users under age 16.
- Comments: You can also set who can comment on your videos. By default, only friends (people you follow who follow you back) can comment on videos uploaded by users under 16 years old. This can’t be set to “everyone,” but you can turn off the comments altogether. You can also turn on comment filters to automatically hide offensive comments or create a custom list of keywords that will be hidden when detected.
- Block/remove followers: You can block or remove anyone from your list of followers to prevent them from interacting with you.
From a privacy perspective, TikTok also limits the amount of data it collects from younger users. TikTok’s definition of “younger users” is anyone below age 13. For such users, TikTok will collect only some types of personal information (username, password, and birthday) and technical information (IP addresses, device identifiers, network IDs).
So, should you let your kids use TikTok? We don’t recommend it, but we also don’t advise against it. Ultimately, if you let your kids use TikTok, it’s your responsibility as parent or guardian to monitor how they use the app and to teach them how to safeguard themselves and their personal information.
Pro Tip: For more safety tips, we’ve created a guide for how parents can keep their kids safe online.
How to Stay Safe On TikTok
Here are some tips for how to stay safer on TikTok. Some of these steps also apply to other social-media sites, and websites in general.
- Avoid oversharing: Your social network doesn’t have to know every detail of your life. Never share sensitive personal information, such as your birthday, personal email address, or home address.
- Set account restrictions: Use TikTok’s privacy settings to limit who can view, comment, and share your content.
- Set your account to private: If you do, then only people who follow you can see what you post on TikTok. You can also deny follow requests from people you don’t know.
- Enable two-step verification: It will prevent others from logging in to your TikTok account, even if they have your login credentials. Two-step verification means you’ll need to approve login requests using your registered phone number or email.
- Don’t reuse passwords: Keep your passwords unique, and don’t use the same passwords for different accounts. That way, your password security on your other online accounts will remain intact if your account becomes compromised.
- Practice good digital security hygiene: Use a virtual private network to hide your IP address and prevent tracking by advertisers. You can read our guide to the best VPNs on the market to learn your options.
With all the good things that come with TikTok — the social-networking aspect, entertaining content, and business opportunities for influencers — also come real dangers that can result in identity theft, mental harm, and even physical harm. The same, however, is true for any social-media platform. Keeping in mind the dangers we mentioned in this article, as well as the ways you can avoid such dangers, will help you enjoy scrolling through TikTok worry-free.
Can I remove my information from TikTok?
In certain cases, yes, you can remove your information from TikTok. That would mean terminating your account though. Once you’re off the platform, TikTok will store your data only in an anonymized and aggregated format, but you can go to tiktok.com/legal/report/privacy to have your data removed completely.
Are children below the age of 13 allowed on TikTok?
Yes, children below age 13 are allowed on TikTok. They are afforded certain privacy rights, however, such as limited data gathering.
Can TikTok access your camera?
Yes, TikTok can access your camera, but only if you give the app permission. Keep in mind, though, that denying TikTok’s access to your camera will prevent you from shooting content through the app, but you can still upload already-recorded videos to the platform.
Federal Trade Commission. (2022). Social media a gold mine for scammers in 2021. ftc.gov/news-events/data-visualizations/data-spotlight/2022/01/social-media-gold-mine-scammers-2021.
TikTok. (2022). #BeCyberSmart: Tips to protect your heart and wallet. newsroom.tiktok.com/en-us/be-cyber-smart-about-romance-scams.