TikTok Allegedly Planned to Spy on American Citizens

For all its rampant growth and success as a social media app, TikTok has landed itself in hot water more than a few times. The US Government has highlighted the app as a potential security risk for US citizens, and once floated the idea of banning the app in the country altogether. The latest accusation however, is arguably the most
October 25, 2022
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For all its rampant growth and success as a social media app, TikTok has landed itself in hot water more than a few times. The US Government has highlighted the app as a potential security risk for US citizens, and once floated the idea of banning the app in the country altogether. The latest accusation however, is arguably the most concerning yet: There were plans to use TikTok to monitor the locations of American citizens.

The allegation comes from a report from Forbes, who reviewed materials backing the claims. According to Forbes, a China-based team at ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, had plans to use TikTok data to track the whereabouts of a specific American citizen. Forbes acknowledges it isn’t clear if this data was actually collected, but the plans were reportedly real nonetheless.

This location data isn’t necessarily unprecedented. The app uses a users IP address to deliver personalized content and ads, similar to other apps. That’s part of the reason you see ads relevant to your current location, not just your likes and interests apps gather from your usage. However, it’s not often you hear about this data being used as a way for companies to track their users. It does happen, though: Forbes points out examples of Uber and Facebook abusing location data to track their users. Both companies allegedly used this method in 2015 to track journalists, while Uber has a separate charge of tracking politicians in 2017 to serve them an alternate version of the app.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, ByteDance has denied the accusations, issuing the statement: “TikTok does not collect precise GPS location information from US users, meaning TikTok could not monitor US users in the way the article suggested.” Forbes stands by its reporting.

The company is currently in the middle of what it calls ”Project Texas,” and endeavor to ensure TikTok data from US users cannot be accessed by China-based employees.

Cover image via Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

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