Is TikTok Stealing Your Personal Information?

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

TikTok’s popularity is growing exponentially, and according to a report released in Jan. 2023 by Business of Apps, the social media platform has earned over an estimated $4 billion revenue in 2021, and currently has had over one billion monthly active users since 2021. Among many factors, TikTok’s popularity comes from its use of algorithms. 

Like all social media, TikTok uses algorithms to keep users hooked into consuming more content. According to Forbes,  “the app knows what you like. When you spend extra time watching how-to videos related to plumbing, then you will start seeing more videos like that.”

York University Associate Professor of Criminology, Natasha Tusikov, describes how platforms like TikTok and Facebook will purposefully boost some content and marginalize others, solely for the the benefit of larger commerical interests in order to enable more robust user engagement.

“Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok make most of their revenue through digital advertising,” says Tusikov. “These companies operate behavioural advertising campaigns, meaning they gather personal data from users and divide users (e.g., university students interested in sports and video games) into demographic profiles that they provide to enable advertisers to reach specific groups of consumers,” adds Tusikov.

The more time a user spends on TikTok, the more the algorithm feeds what the user wants, keeping them stuck in an endless cycle of scrolling. 

History Professor at Ontario Tech University, and an expert in Canadian foreign policy, Dennis G. Molinaro, mentions that TikTok “doesn’t do any more data harvesting than other apps. The issue is where it’s stored.

“The Communist Party of China (CCP) already has a footprint with the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) branch of the company and it’s been caught in several scandals already about who had access to data and for what purpose,” says Molinaro. 

His points align with a July 2022 report in The Guardian, which describes TikTok’s data harvesting allegations and the company’s potential involvement with the CCP. The report, gathered by an Australian-US cybersecurity firm, Internet 2.0, found that TikTok collects enormous amounts of information from users, and that “TikTok collects users’ data through contact lists, calendars, scanning hard drives, and geolocating devices on an hourly basis.”  

The report from the cybersecurity firm also stated that the company’s practices are “overly intrusive.” Their findings showed that TikTok was able to run successfully without any data gathering. Thus, the Internet 2.0 report concludes the main reason behind these actions lies with data harvesting.

This evidence has concerned some politicians. In the United States, former president Donald Trump and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have argued for the banning of TikTok.  

CBC News reported in Jan. 2023, that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is located in China. The article also reported that “a spokesperson for TikTok insisted the Chinese Communist Party has no control over ByteDance, that it has never provided Canadian users’ data to the Chinese government and that it would not do so if asked.” 

However, Internet 2.0’s report in The Guardian also describes research findings which suggest the app was connecting to Chinese servers, and was sending data back to these servers. The company stated to The Guardian that “Chinese authorities can actually access device data” and that they “consistently saw … data geolocating back to China”. Yet, it’s still unclear what kind of data was sent. 

Despite the infringement on privacy, there are some methods to protect user information.  

In an article by Wired, Will Richmond-Coggan, a technology and privacy law firm specialist, outlines methods for users to protect their information. For instance, users can head into app settings and turn off personalized ads.

Richmond-Coggan advises other methods for protecting data, which include using a VPN and a burner email address. A burner email address is an account containing different personal information, while a VPN hides a user’s location and IP address to ensure anonymity. Despite these methods, users can still face data capturing and infringement upon privacy — so, if it is a major concern, Richmond-Coggan urges users ask themselves how necessary the account is.
TikTok’s privacy concerns have also led to dramatic changes in Canadian politics. As of Feb. 28, the  federal government has banned TikTok on all government mobile devices. These measures have come as the Trudeau Liberal government faces serious allegations of possible election interference from the CCP in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

About the Author

By David Clarke

Photo/Video Editor

David is in his fourth year, studying English at York University. He has a keen interest in filmmaking, writing, literature, video-editing, and ideas. When he isn’t working on his next project or studying, you can catch him watching film-noirs on Turner Classic Movies.


Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Adele Clarke

Terrifying! I am going to get a burner email address pronto. Thanks for the extensive info and the suggestions.


Feels like a new world! The old fantasy of an open internet seems to be receding as personal privacy and state sovereignty are increasingly challenged by the agglomerating effects of big data. No doubt these developments will continue to spark lively discussion in legal circles.