Is TikTok safe? A deep dive into TikTok security concerns

Dawna Roberts

Jan 25, 20245 min read

Is TikTok safe? A deep dive into the TikTok security concerns: Header image

As our society becomes more comfortable with social media platforms, we increasingly put ourselves at risk. TikTok is no different than any other social media platform in regard to privacy and security. Most of our safety rests in our own hands, including how we use these tools. So, how safe is TikTok? Keep reading to learn all about its privacy and security risks, how to use it, and how to stay safe. 

Is TikTok safe from a privacy perspective?

Is TikTok safe to download? The answer is a bit more complicated than yes or no.

Dozens of news outlets and cybersecurity researchers have examined the TikTok app and found that it collects vast amounts of data from your phone. This includes data the app doesn’t need to run, and there is intense speculation that this data is fed back to Chinese servers.

The types of data that TikTok collects

Although TikTok has been criticized for harvesting data, admittedly, it’s no more than the data that other social media companies collect when you use their apps. When you see the list of what these apps collect, however, it can be alarming.

According to TikTok’s privacy policy, the app collects:

  • Your exact geolocation
  • Videos you watch
  • Comments you make
  • Private messages you send within the app
  • Contact lists
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Age
  • Search and browsing history
  • Photos and videos you upload
  • Your device’s clipboard contents

Can TikTok access everything on your phone?

By default, TikTok demands access to everything on your phone, including your photos, device data, cookies, IP address, and all the content you access or create using the app. However, TikTok cannot just access your entire iPhone. iOS is designed to segregate apps so they do not cross boundaries, and only you can give them access to other areas of the phone.

One popular news station reported that the app also collects Face ID data, voice prints, text messages, photos, and more. However, it’s unclear if those rumors are true. 

Can TikTok see you through your camera?

TikTok can only access your camera or microphone if you have given the app permission to do so. If you are worried that TikTok is using your camera without your knowledge to spy on you, turn off access to it in your device’s settings. 

Is TikTok monitored by China?

TikTok insists that none of the data collected by the app is stored in China. However, security experts have traced the app’s data collection and storing algorithms back to an IP address in China. This has led to speculation that the app is sharing data with the Chinese government. 

ByteDance, a Beijing-based company, owns TikTok, and despite its continued insistence it is not harvesting data for China, many countries have banned the use of the app. 

Is TikTok safe to use for children and teens?

TikTok is currently one of the most popular apps used by teenagers. In fact, roughly two-thirds of all US teens use the app.

As with any social media platform, TikTok poses risks for children and teens. It’s up to parents to decide if they want their children to have access to apps that collect data and can potentially expose their children to unwanted content. Keep in mind that the data being collected could open the door to identity theft if your child/teen shares too much of their personal lives.

Potential dangers of TikTok for underage users

TikTok poses many risks for underaged users, including:

  • Identity theft
  • Vulnerability to scams
  • A “For You” feed that can expose underaged users to unsafe or inappropriate content
  • Being targeted by predators
  • Mental health issues
  • Anxiety
  • Cyberbullying
  • Exposed privacy
  • Potential access to explicit/unsafe photos

TikTok scams you should be aware of

Unfortunately, as fun as TikTok might be, it’s replete with scams you should be aware of. Here are the three most common types of scams on TikTok. 

Fake giveaways

A scammer will contact you to say you won something or that they have an easy way for you to make money. Unfortunately, nothing is ever free. Eventually, the scammer will ask for payment for shipping, supplies, or other fees before they give you your prize, which you will never see. 

Romance scams

In a romance scam, a user will pretend to be infatuated with you. Things will progress swiftly from there. Eventually (and inevitably), they will need money due to some sort of emergency. They hope you will be so in love that you won’t think twice before opening your wallet. 

Phishing scams

A scammer may contact you directly using a DM or post something with a malicious link that takes you to an unsafe site, where they will attempt to steal your personal information for identity theft reasons or to steal money from you. Most often, they want your login credentials to gain access to your accounts.

How to stay safe on TikTok

Your best bet for staying safe on TikTok is to observe the following strict cybersecurity practices. If your children use the app, teach them these rules so they can stay safe as well. 

Set your account to Private

One of the best ways to stay safe on TikTok is to set your account to Private so that only approved users can follow you or see the content you share.

To set your TikTok account to Private:

  1. Navigate to Settings and privacy.
  2. Select Privacy.
  3. Toggle the Private account option to the on position.

Don’t share personal information

Never give out personal information like your social security number, home address, or other details that might be used for identity theft. And never give payment details, such as bank account information, credit card numbers, etc., to anyone you don’t know.

Restrict access to your data

Go into the settings area of your phone and restrict TikTok’s access to anything you don’t want it to share, such as your photos, messages, and location. Go through each privacy and security setting within the app and set them to maximum.

Use a VPN to hide your location

Install and use a VPN when using TikTok to hide your IP address and location. A VPN could also protect you from other dangers like man-in-the-middle attacks. 

Use a burner phone with TikTok

Users who take their online security to the extreme may consider using a cheap burner phone to install TikTok. If you don’t connect your other accounts (Apple, Google, etc.) and keep the burner phone lean and clean, the app will have no data to harvest. 

Use antivirus software and run frequent scans

Install antivirus software on your device and run frequent scans to look for anything unusual. Scammers often install malware on your device to steal even more from you. 

Downloading, installing, and using TikTok is a personal decision you must make for yourself. If you’re okay with the app harvesting data from your phone, use it.

We recommend that you do all you can to secure that your social media platforms while protecting your personal data. If you must use TikTok, do so responsibly and limit how much and what you share within the app.

This is an independent publication, and it has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by ByteDance Ltd. TikTok is a trademark of ByteDance Ltd.

Dawna Roberts Dawna Roberts
Dawna has spent her entire career in web dev, cybersecurity, and IT. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Adobe, Airtable, Backblaze, Cyberleaf, Lifewire, and other online publications for the past ten years.