Skip to main content

Yes, Tik-Tok Tracks Your Data, And Yes, You Should Be Worried

The popular site takes what has been an all-too-common practice to new extremes.

TikTok has made explosive changes to the social media landscape since its debut in 2016. The short-form video-sharing social phenomenon has forced the evolution of mega internet platforms like Alphabet's  (GOOG)  YouTube and Meta  (META)  platforms apps Facebook and Instagram, who created Reels to compete with TikTok videos.

Never an app to be outdone, TikTok has recently turned its eyes to music streaming and a team-up with Ticketmaster  (LYV) , both of which could mean a major threat for Spotify  (SPOT)  in the upcoming years. The company has even begun reaching into the mobile gaming space.

"The clock app" has quickly become one of the top earning social media platforms when it comes to ad revenue thanks to its popularity  -- and some creative revenue sharing tactics. According to Hootsuite's "The Global State of Digital 2022" report, social media users spend close to the highest percentage of their time on TikTok, with an average of almost 24 hours a month spent swiping through the site's popular short-form videos.

With fans spending literal days of their lives on the app, there's a whole lot of data that can be generated from all those views. But if you're clicking a link on TikTok, how much of the data from that website interaction does TikTok have access to? And how is it different from other social media sites?

Social Media Apps Collect Data Using In-App Browsers

If you've ever wondered why every social media app opens links in its own browser, you're not alone. Security researcher Felix Krause wondered the same, so he took a look at the web coding for major social media platforms with in-app browser setups. What he found might make you think twice about shopping on your favorite social media apps. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok use in-app browsers with a lot of added JavaScript, including "tracking code". 

What does that mean? Well, if you're cruising Instagram let's say you see a link to, say, a solid gold ham sandwich sculpture that you absolutely must have. So you click the link, and you're taken to the Solid Gold Ham Sandwich Emporium website, so you put enter your credit card info and BAM! You are now the proud owner of a fine piece of art -- and Instagram is now the proud owner of all that data. This isn't altogether alarming since many of us shop for more items we'd like using that very same data. But most in-app browsers allow you to open a website in an alternative browser.

How TikTok's In-App Browser Traps You & Your Data

The option to switch to an out-of-app browser is really helpful. For one, not every site converts well inside a site's browser. Additionally, you may have downloaded a third-party app to work with your regular browsers to protect your precious data. But what happens if you can't get out of an in-app browser?

TikTok's in-app browser doesn't allow you to reopen a link found on the platform into your own browser. This means that any information you put into the app's internal browser belongs to ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese parent company. In the age of digital shopping, this might be alarming -- after all, how many times have you put your credit card number into a site you initially found on social media? Do you want that social media site to have your credit card info?

When you look at some of TikTok's past data controversy, this method, used to provide "an optimal user experience" according to a statement to Forbes, can start to look more nefarious than just credit card information. In the past, there have been accusations that TikTok is feeding its data to the Chinese government

If this is a major concern for you, we don't blame you. Fortunately, the researcher who initially provided all of this data about TikTok and other social media in-app browsers has created a handy tool called InAppBrowser.com. The site will show you which codes are being used by your app's browser. Krause's intention is to make these website operations more transparent for everyday users. And the more you know about your personal data, the safer it'll be.