TikTok Safety Concerns: Is your data at risk?

A cybersecurity expert breaks down the risks of user data falling into the wrong hands.
Published: Aug. 10, 2020 at 12:52 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -A cybersecurity expert breaks down the risks of user data falling into the wrong hands as the U.S. issues an executive order about TikTok regarding privacy concerns.

The Chinese-based social media company, ByteDance, has just over a month to find a buyer or the app will be banned from the United States. President Donald Trump issued an order to ban the app if it isn’t sold by the Chinese-owned company within 45 days starting Aug.6.

Some TikTok users are saving their content just in case the app is no longer allowed in the U.S.

“I really got started with TikTok when my dad asked me to make a TikTok dance with him,” Lexie Bernard, Sun Prairie resident said.

It's safe to say TikTok makes Bernard tick.

"I post maybe once or twice a week now. I'm on it every single day," she said.

But soon that may change.

As the popularity over the video sharing app grows, so does the backlash from U.S. lawmakers calling the app a national security threat.

“I was kind of shocked and kind of frantic because I have all of this content on there,” Bernard said.

Cybersecurity experts said the moment you download the app and agree to the terms of service, you just gave the company the ‘OK’ to harvest your data and track your history.

“There is increased concern not because of all the data that’s being collected by TikTok, but also because of who has access to the data, where it’s being stored and what the implications of that might mean,” Nicholas Davis, UW System Director of Information Security said.

He said when users grant TikTok access to the phone’s camera, microphone and photos, the company has access even when you’re not using the app.

"So you really don't have any assurance of what's going on at any given moment in time and recovering from an information security incident is a lot more difficult than preventing one to begin with," he said.

Davis says there is concern at the national level that the Chinese-government could use data for tracking federal employees or use personal information for blackmail.

“We’re not saying that everything that comes out of China or every application that is produced by a company in China is nefarious,” he said. “But the issue is we have less assurance of what’s being done with the data than we do with an application that was built and resides in the United States.”

He says the U.S. is taking a proactive approach by erring on the side of caution.

“After the fact, it’s really hard to get your data back,” he said. “Once a genie is out of the bottle, you can’t go and pull the data back to you.”

Copyright 2020 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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