Tik Tok is hacking you but let's dance anyway

Hacktivist group Anonymous is calling out Tik Tok. This all spawned from a Reddit user who reverse-engineered the app and claims that TikTok is nothing more than "a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network."

The app reportedly tracks users’ phone hardware – meaning their CPU type, hardware IDs, memory usage and disk space – as well as the other apps users, have installed. For what it's worth I've reversed the Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter apps. They don't collect anywhere near the same amount of data that TikTok does, and they sure as hell aren't outright trying to hide exactly what's being sent like TikTok is.

If Tik Tok knows what app you use, they have more of an understanding of who you are.

News apps - determine which way you lean politically

Dating apps - tell them what your sexual preference is

Work tools - tell them what tech stack you use

All of this and more will allow them to target people at an individual level without you ever knowing.

Tell your friends and family who are using Tik Tok to delete it now!!!! What would they say? 

Not a lot, the largest demographic (16-24) will carry on because of its virality and the community built around it. But what can be done when your government comes in and takes that away from you? 

Government > Apps

India (app’s biggest market) banned Tik Tok at the end of June along with other apps citing reasons related to security.

After the ban, a plethora of new Tik Tok rip-offs like Moj, Trell and Mitron have gained millions of downloads already. Instagram is also testing Reels, its own version of TikTok in that market.

Following the ban, the parent company of Tik Tok is anticipating a loss of over $6 billion USD. To put this into context, Tik Tok made $3 billion USD net profits in 2019 and spent $1 billion in India building up its active users.

USA vs China

Last week in the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked 

Would you recommend downloading TikTok? 

"Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party," he replied.

Asked if he would ban Chinese apps - including TikTok - he said: "I don't want to get out in front of the president, but it's something we're looking at".

Ultimately this decision is based around security but also designed to punish China. Given the tension between the two superpowers, you could say this is highly plausible.

What does this all mean?

Politics can determine the future of Tik Tok and not necessarily the user base. Tik Tok growth has scaled across large international markets but at its detriment, its lack of transparency and clarity around what the app is actually doing behind the scenes could indeed be its downfall. Generally, these kinds of apps go through a cycle where eventually competition comes into the market to fight for share. In this case, some global governments have intervened and shut down the biggest player opening up the market again.

What if this was Tik Tok’s plan all along? To procure as much data as possible and net a short term profit? Take those learnings and money to build something else? A new monster perhaps. 

For now, Tik Tok users outside of India can keep dancing and posting but I feel the end of Tik Tok is now inevitable as questions and concerns related to privacy violations come into play.

Thanks to Compound Writing for their continuance support and edits.