The recent ban of the TikTok app on Canadian federal government devices has sparked conversation around security on social media.
The app has been the subject of security concerns lately.
The federal government banned it from government-issued phones on February 28 and Manitoba followed suit with a ban beginning March 6.
Government employees could still use the app, but they would have to use it on personal devices or secondary devices, according to Cybersecurity & Technology Analyst Ritesh Kotak.
Kotak said this is because of the data the app collects from people’s devices.
“The type of device you’re using, your location, they may have access to your address book, your calendar,” he said.
However, he said the problem is actually threefold and includes more than what’s being collected from the device.
“The second is subscriber information. When you actually sign up for the app, it collects your date of birth, your full name, phone number, and email address,” Kotak said.
“The third one is content-based, and that is, what are you actually liking or viewing? How are you scrolling, at what time of day?”
TikTok is a very powerful platform that connects millions of people, young and old.
The question is, what is different about TikTok compared to other social media platforms that collect similar data?
“It’s because of its Chinese connection,” said Kotak.
“The federal government is taking the precautionary step of saying, well, wait a second, is there a way that information about government devices, information collected by these apps, location, content, subscriber information can be sent to China and be essentially turned over to the Chinese government?”
Kotak advises TikTok users to perform what he calls a ‘privacy checkup,’ which means understanding what data the app is collecting, what users are agreeing to. He also advises taking some simple steps such as disabling the location feature, ensuring that it doesn’t have access to your contact, your address book, your contacts and just to use different email addresses when signing up.
“There are ways of safely using TikTok and other apps, you just got to be cognizant of who has the data, the control of that data, and how it could be used by third parties.”
Another issue the popular app presents is it can take a toll on users’ mental health because the app can be addictive and consume a lot of people’s time.
“It actually affects your productivity, if I am sitting and holding the phone at 9 a.m., that’s the most productive hours from 9 to 5, and if I’m holding it in hand, I’m going to scroll for two hours,” said Winnipeg TikTok user Supriya Gupta.
The app is very intrusive and it collects everything, it knows people’s political views, viewing habits, likes, dislikes, and buying habits, according to Kotak.
“You got to understand that anything that you post, anything that you do on any of these apps is going to be mined, is going to be collected, is going to be analyzed,” said Kotak.
“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product, and it’s your data that these companies want.”
—With files from Global’s Iris Dyck