The video-sharing tool TikTok is one of the most popular apps, with just over a billion monthly users. The service has exploded among younger users over the last few months as the source for plenty of viral clips and life hacks.
But TikTok’s reputation is far from squeaky clean. The Chinese company behind the app sensation has (on multiple occasions) faced the wrath of U.S. lawmakers, accusing it of capturing sensitive user data.
Now, the app is using code to track users. Read on to see how it’s happening and a clever way to avoid being tracked.
Here’s the backstory
Many apps have built-in browsers, so it’s easier to navigate to other sites when you click a link. For example, when you tap on a product or service on Instagram or Facebook, it doesn’t open the link in your phone’s default browser. Instead, it uses the built-in browser of the respective apps.
TikTok has a similar feature, where links open in TikTok’s in-app browser. Having this ability is not out of the ordinary, as it lets you browse and get to the content quickly. But what raised some eyebrows with TikTok’s browser is that it tracks what you type.
Researcher Felix Krause tested seven apps (TikTok, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon and Robinhood). While a few tracks online activity, only TikTok seemed to monitor keystrokes.
“This was an active choice the company made. This is a non-trivial engineering task. This does not happen by mistake or randomly,” Krause explains in a lengthy blog. Tap or click here to see our report on apps using their browsers to track you and a tool that shows if apps use this technology.
What you can do about it
The company confirmed to Forbes that the features exist but allegedly only uses them for “debugging, troubleshooting and performance monitoring.” But there is a simple way to avoid TikTok from logging your keystrokes or tracking you.
The best way to keep your information private and avoid apps from tracking your every move is to never click on links inside an app you’re using. Instead, copy the URL from the link and paste it into your browser of choice.
If you are fed up with TikTok and want to remove it from your device, here’s how:
- Open the Google Play Store app.
- At the top right, tap the Profile icon.
- Tap Manage apps & devices > Manage.
- Tap the name of the app you want to delete.
- Then finally, tap Uninstall.
For Apple devices
Touch and hold the app icon on your device, then tap Remove App > Delete App > Delete.
TikTok to lawmakers: We’re working to protect U.S. data – Is it safe to use?