The Spyware Concerns behind TikTok


TikTok is a global sensation. The short video social media app has over 60 million monthly active users in the United States alone, according to Statista. Available in over 150 countries, the app also has over 1 billion monthly active users, estimates another expert.

Indeed, the app’s popularity hasn’t been affected by concerns that it is spyware. Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly said that the app was sending data directly to China. Steve Huffman, the co-founder of Reddit, called it “fundamentally parasitic” at an event and warned users against installing spyware.

What is spyware?

If you’re looking to install anti spyware technology on your computer or mobile device and are interested in a definition of spyware, here it is: spyware is a type of malware that snoops on you and sends your data to third parties without your consent.

The most recent example of this malware is Pegasus. Developed by Israeli cyber arms firm, Pegasus spyware can track phone calls, read text messages, steal usernames and passwords, and follow locations. Among other things, Pegasus uses a device’s microphone and camera to complete its functions.

Pegasus has hit political dissidents, human rights activists, and journalists worldwide. Here are some of Pegasus’ most renowned targets:

  • Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. She was trying to escape the country after fearing for her life.
  • Princess Haya Bint al-Hussain, former wife of Dubai ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. She fled Dubai after also fearing for her life.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron
  • Hanan Elatr, the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

Threat actors don’t use spyware only against high-profile targets. Stalkers such as child predators and jealous lovers use spyware to stalk vulnerable targets like children and women. Corporate spies use keyloggers to log keystrokes and steal company data. Hackers also use spyware to steal login credentials to financial accounts, social media pages, etc.

Is TikTok spyware?

TikTok is not spyware in the traditional sense. Unlike Pegasus, it’s not out to steal the usernames and passwords to your bank accounts. But it does have some spyware qualities. For example, a Wall Street Journal article says that the app “learns your most hidden interests and emotions and drives you deep into rabbit holes of content.”

However, if TokTok is spyware, then so are social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. When you use a social media app, you pay for it with your information. After all, social media platforms use your data to generate advertising revenue.

Until now, there’s no evidence that TikTok is spyware. TikTok’s concerns may arise from the fact that it’s a Chinese app. Insiders say that TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, is in control. With China’s dubious record, you may want to remove TikTok if you want to take a stand.   To protect yourself from pure spyware like stalkerware, keyloggers, and more, please use the best anti-malware software and avoid downloading suspicious apps. Don’t lend your devices to people you don’t trust either. It doesn’t take long for someone to install spyware on a smartphone or laptop!