Cybersecurity pro: TikTok may be fun, but you should consider removing it

The U.S. is inching closer and closer to a nationwide ban on TikTok. Those short, shareable videos make it the largest social app out there. Get this: 150 million Americans use TikTok, including about two-thirds of teens.

What’s the big deal? TikTok is a national security threat. The Chinese-owned social media platform’s parent company ByteDance is based in Beijing and is required by Chinese law to give the government access to collected data. (By the way, if you'd like to stay updated on tech topics the easy way, join over 400,000 people who get my free daily newsletter and sign up here.)

TikTok collects data that includes search and browsing history, facial ID, voice prints, texts, location, and photos. Here’s a wrinkle: You can watch the videos without creating an account. Is that safe to do? The answer below will shock you.

Talk to your kids

It's not up for debate: TikTok gathers all sorts of user data. It also is built from the ground up to be addictive, making it so easy to share quick videos catered to the interests of each user.

Then there are the viral "challenges" that can lead to injury or death – ever heard of the choking or blackout challenge? It’s terrifying.

All these things are dangerous enough, and young people are especially vulnerable. As a parent, you can have controls to restrict your kids from visiting certain websites or downloading certain apps. That’s all well and good, but it’s not enough.

The Wall Street Journal reports that children with TikTok accounts are sending screen recordings of videos to their friends who can’t access the app themselves. Kids are filling their phones with these video clips to the point where they can’t even update them.

TikTok videos are popular enough to be found on virtually every social media and video hosting platform, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
TikTok videos are popular enough to be found on virtually every social media and video hosting platform, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Are you safe simply watching the videos?

You don’t need a TikTok account to watch the content. People with accounts can simply send you links. You still share some information with TikTok, such as in your browser, when you watch it elsewhere. According to Caitlin Fennessy, vice president and chief knowledge officer at the International Association of Privacy Professionals, your browser type, phone information, and IP address are up for grabs.

TikTok videos are popular enough to be found on virtually every social media and video hosting platform, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. This is where it gets tricky.

Someone can upload a video to another platform that isn’t connected to TikTok. It’s just a clip that exists on their Facebook profile. You’ll be able to interact with it as a Facebook user but not use the TikTok functions ordinarily present in a video.

A video could be uploaded to another platform and linked to the original source at TikTok. You’ll see some indication of that, and if you click the video, you’ll be taken to TikTok. In this case, some of your information will likely be collected.

Beyond the danger of the app itself, the platform is a hotbed of scams. Here’s how some grieving families lost something more irreplaceable than money.

Is anyone safe?

Let’s say you don’t have the TikTok app installed or click on links to watch the videos. You’re all good, right? That’s where pixels come in.

Big Tech companies like Meta, Microsoft, and Google use bite-sized pieces of code called pixels to track users. TikTok is no exception, with pixels installed across retail, e-commerce, travel, tech, and government sites. Data such as your IP address, shopping cart contents, and searches are collected when you visit these sites.

Speaking to Consumer Reports, a TikTok spokesperson admitted that the company receives data from people who don’t have a TikTok account and uses it for “aggregated reports that they send to advertisers about their websites.”

There’s really no way to know which websites are using pixels. This is another reason to be careful with any information you share and what links and ads you click.

Get your personal info off the web. Start with this list of people-search sites.

What can you do about it?

You can’t completely control what pops up when browsing the web or social media – but you can control your clicks. Don’t open anything suspicious or tempting with some crazy headline.

The 10 seconds of silliness is not worth the risk of giving up your data.

If you or a loved one has TikTok installed, remove it now. It’s never too late! Here’s how:

Remove TikTok from your iPhone

• Touch and hold the TikTok app.

• Tap Remove App.

• Tap Delete App, then tap Delete to confirm.

Remove TikTok from your Android phone

• Open the Google Play app.

• At the top right, tap the Profile icon.

• Tap Manage apps & devices and then Manage.

• Tap the TikTok app.

• Tap Uninstall.

Some tracking info can stay on your phone even after you delete it.

One more important step

To completely remove TikTok, go nuclear. Your best bet is to do a complete factory reset on your phone. Here’s how to do that. Pro tip: Back up your data first!

Tech with ties to China: What to avoid

More than just TikTok

ByteDance operates at least two other widely downloaded programs.

CapCut is popular video editing software, and Lark is a team collaboration app. Both spy and report back to ByteDance, which then turns over data to the Communist Chinese. It’s not just TikTok. If you ask me, every ByteDance product should be banned in America.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Whether Tiktok is banned or not, you should consider deleting it