Waiting in the checkout line. Waiting to fall asleep. Waiting for your boring work call to finally end.
When you find yourself in these situations, do you usually have your phone in hand? And does it usually include scrolling through videos on TikTok? You’re far from alone! The app has 150 million users in the United States and more than a billion daily users worldwide.1
However, governments around the world believe that while you’re exploring the world through short-form video, unscrupulous characters are lurking in the background collecting your personal data. Here’s the real story behind TikTok bans and what they mean for you and your online privacy.
Why Is TikTok Banned?
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. Much of the data privacy unease surrounding TikTok is ByteDance’s opacity in their data mining practices. It’s unknown how much data it collects on users and what it does with that information. Since the Chinese government has a hand in many of the businesses based in the country, it’s unclear if the government is party to the mined data. Because many countries are tense politically with China, some governments are being cautious about limiting ByteDance’s access to personal information and potentially government secrets.
So far, various countries have banned TikTok from the work phones of government employees, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, and various European Union members.2 India completely banned the app in the country in 2020. Various other countries with strict limits on self-expression have also attempted to forbid their citizens from accessing TikTok.
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok in May 2023. The governor cited “protecting Montanans’ personal and private data” as the reason behind the new bill, which is set to go into effect in January 2024.3
What Do the Bans Mean for You?
For the general population, bans of TikTok on government-issued devices will not affect your access to the platform Even for government employees, this just means that you can’t access the app from your work phone, laptop, or tablet. On your own time and your personal devices, you can still scroll to your heart’s content.
Montana’s TikTok bill could pick up steam with other states claiming to protect the PII of their citizens; however, the Montana law and any similar ones that may arise are likely to be scrutinized as a violation of freedom of speech. As of now, it’s unclear whether the bill – and future ones like it – will be invalidated due to a violation of the First Amendment.
How these TikTok bans and the news headlines may affect you is that they emphasize the necessity of social media best practices and guarding your personally identifiable information (PII) more closely.
How to Maintain Your Privacy on TikTok
Because it’s unclear how much and with whom TikTok is gathering and sharing your data, it’s best to play it safe and limit the amount you reveal about yourself on the app. Here are a few tips to give you peace of mind and improve your online privacy:
1. Turn off geo-tagging.
This is a good practice on any social media platform. Geo-tagging is a function where the app uses GPS to track your location and then publish it alongside your post. This feature may put your personal safety at risk, since stalkers can use the geotag, context clues, and video background to guess at your location.
2. Disable tracking and targeted ads.
TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and gaming apps depend on advertisers’ dollars to make money. To provide users with the most relevant ads (and improve their chances of making a sale), companies gather information about you and build a profile based on your online comings and goings. Most apps that allow tracking must ask your permission first to do so. Always uncheck this box and disable ad tracking, because there’s no guarantee that the PII the ad company collects will stay a secret. Did you know that 98% of people have their personal information up for sale on the internet? Personal Data Cleanup is an excellent tool to erase your private details from the internet and keep it out of the hands of strangers.
3. Keep your life a mystery.
Oversharing on social media may leave you vulnerable to social engineering schemes. This happens when a scammer gathers details about you and then tailor-makes a scam that’s likely to get your attention. For example, if your social media profiles make it clear that you’re an animal lover, a scammer may write a heartfelt post about needing donations to save their beloved pet.
4. Use a VPN.
A virtual private network (VPN) scrambles your online traffic, making it very difficult for someone to digitally eavesdrop on you or pinpoint your location. Plus, a VPN works on any device, not just desktops. So, while you scroll on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, a VPN can keep your internet traffic a secret.
Enjoy TikTok Safely
Don’t worry: TikTok – the constant companion in times of boredom, transit, and when you’re in need of a laugh – isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For the general population in most parts of the world, the app is staying put.
However, just because it’s not banned doesn’t mean that it’s 100% safe for your online privacy. Keep our tips in mind the next time you scroll through or post. To fully cover your bases and give you peace of mind, partner with McAfee+ Ultimate. This all-in-one service includes unlimited VPN for all your devices, Personal Data Cleanup, and more.
Laugh, cry, learn, and explore the world through TikTok with confidence in the security of your online privacy!
2Associated Press, “Here are the countries that have bans on TikTok”
3CNN, “Montana governor bans TikTok”