There are calls to ban TikTok in Australia – but you should worry about Facebook too

The concern over what data TikTok might be collecting on its users and providing to government authorities should be a concern for every app, not just those linked to China.

This week, in response to calls to ban the app in Australia, TikTok wrote to Australian politicians to say it was being used as a “political football” in the diplomatic fight between Australia, the US and China, and claimed it was misinformation to suggest the app was providing user data back to the Chinese government, or storing Australian data within China.

In the political furore that has followed the app in the United States, it was reported – through Apple’s beta release for its upcoming iOS 14 update for iPhones and iPads – that the app had been reading the clipboard information on users’ devices (that is where something is stored when you click copy on text or an image).

TikTok has said it did this in order to detect users spamming comments, and has since fixed it.

The Washington Post also had a look under the hood of the app and found that while it was sending an “abnormal” amount of data back to servers (none of which the Post could determine were based in China), it was the standard phone information which apps often use to fingerprint a device, and similar to what other apps such as Facebook collect.

The fact that it is similar to Facebook ought not to be a cause for relief, but a reminder that although people are now worried about the national security implications of what apps might be collecting on us, it can often pale in comparison to the privacy implications of what apps collect on us, if just for advertising purposes.

It’s likely there will be many more stories of users catching out apps doing things we don’t expect them to do, in part because the upcoming release of iOS 14 has been centred on user privacy.

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