TikTok, time is running out: collegiate campuses ban the social media platform

TikTok, time is running out: collegiate campuses ban the social media platform

Savannah Williamson, Managing Editor

Whatever you’re searching for, TikTok has it. What’s not to love? The social media giant’s slogan even states, “Make every second count!” However, there may be more sinister motives behind the social media giant. Behind every cute video, there may be a grab at something more personal. 

Recently, Clemson University and USC Upstate have banned the use of TikTok on their Wi-Fi networks over data and security concerns. (Don’t freak out, TikTok is still accessible on your personal device on your own data and network.)

Before we get into the data and security concerns, let’s define TikTok. According to webwise.ie, TikTok, formerly known as Musical.ly, is a social media platform for creating, sharing and discovering short videos.

TikTok was primarily designed for younger audiences. Some protective measures specifically created for young users were put into place by the social media platform. Their community guidelines give the user the ability to report and block users or content if it’s disturbing or inappropriate, access to parental controls and a minimum usage age being set at thirteen with parental consent.

TikTok and its Chinese specific counterpart, Douyin, is owned by the Chinese company, ByteDance. Byte Dance was founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming and Liang Rubo. The company is based out of Beijing and has been incorporated into the Cayman Islands.

Recently, there have been issues with the security aspect of TikTok. Naturally, the safety of the users on TikTok were called into question. Their privacy policy had some very interesting things in it. It includes the mention of: location data collection, image and audio information, cookie collection (not the fresh baked kind, the digital kind), metadata collection, usage information and most alarming of all, device information. 

When Tiktok collects your location data, it collects your approximate location based on the IP address and SIM card in your phone. If you ever decide to upload content, the location you uploaded the content from is sent to TikTok.

The image and audio information that is collected from TikTok is substantial. In their privacy policy, they “collect information about the videos, images and audio that are a part of your User Content, such as identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio and the text of the words spoken in your User Content.” 

That’s not even half of it. They also may collect your “biometric identifiers and biometric information such as face prints and voiceprints, from your User Content.” 

In their collection of cookies, metadata and usage information, it’s really cut and paste. They collect cookies to enable the website to push content and advertisements as well as track the pages you visit the most. They collect your metadata, which is your digital identifying code on the platform that identifies your user content. Your usage data is simply the content you upload and generate and how you use the platform.

The data that has been gathered from your image and audio information, cookies, metadata and usage information is all collected through the app. It’s based on your usage of the app and how you interact and post on it. The most concerning data collected lies in your device information. When you have TikTok on your mobile device or network, you give it access to the data stored in your device.

The list goes on and on as to what you give TikTok access to. Their [TikTok] privacy policy states, “your IP address, user agent, mobile carrier, time zone settings, identifiers for advertising purposes, model of your device, the device system, network type, your screen resolution, operating system, keystroke patterns, battery state, [etc.] is collected to identify your activity.”

Instagram and Facebook are owned by Meta and track data as well. And when comparing the privacy policies, it’s similar. They collect the model of your device, the device system, the network type, the battery state and whether the app is running. However, there is one word that changes everything. In TikTok’s privacy policy, the data is “automatically” collected. In Instagram and Facebook’s case, you control that. The data you authorize them to collect is the only data they can get. In the cases of Facebook and Instagram, you can request a list of the data they get from your watch and comment history, your privacy settings and what user data they have on you. 

When requesting data from TikTok, you will only be given the data from your account, such as watch and comment history and a copy of your privacy settings, but not the data collected on you.

Nigel Basta, director of the Cybersecurity program at North Greenville University, says that there are several big risks for TikTok. One of the biggest risks is the absurd amount of data collected from the app. Another danger is that TikTok gathers PII data (Personal identifiable information) that can be easily accessed by hackers when you set up an account.

PII data and data collection are two different things. According to Osano.com, “PII data consists of any information about a person, including data that can trace or distinguish their identity, and any information that can be linked to them like medical, financial or employment data.” While data collection, explained by Hootsuite.com, state that it “is the use of social media metrics and demographics collecting data through analytics tools on social platforms.”

The recent banning of TikTok on Clemson and USC campuses begs the question if there is an alternative for banning the app.

Basta said, “There’s no other way, you have to ban the app. TikTok opens the back door to hack into even the most secure devices.” 

Which means no matter what you do, TikTok is still a weakness that occupies your digital device. 

“Security works at different levels. Even if you ban it at the Wi-Fi level, opening a hole at the application level can still go around the secure installation that you’ve done at the lower levels,” Basta said.

In my most humble opinion, banning TikTok on collegiate campuses is a good idea. (Hear me out before you riot.)

I understand why USC and Clemson banned TikTok on their own Wi-Fi networks and I agree with their reasoning. For The Daily Gamecock and The Tiger, both the respective student news outlets for USC and Clemson University, TikTok poses ongoing security concerns on a state, federal and international level. So what does that mean moving forward? 

Think of a collegiate Wi-Fi network as an aviary. In this aviary, there are birds that mean a lot to someone. They represent your personal data. State birds in this aviary represent state data. Birds that hold national symbolism would represent federal data. Exotic birds from far away lands represent international data. Now, imagine a big cat is prowling around outside trying to get in. As long as the aviary holds, the birds are safe. If the big cat finds a weakness and exploits it, next thing you know, havoc ensues. Birds are going everywhere. Some get lost and some lose the fight. 

What the analogy means is that as long as your information (your financial records, academic records, social security number, likes and interests, job information, banking information, etc.) is protected by a secure Wi-Fi network, it will stay safe. In this case, this means collegiate Wi-Fi networks. TikTok can bypass security and open a door for itself to get onto a Wi-Fi network that protects valuable information. All of the protection that the Wi-Fi provided, now has a hole in it. That invites nasty characters into your personal information that only want to do you harm. 

Overall, TikTok is a dangerous app when it comes to the security and privacy of its consumers. Until they fix their security issues and make the app significantly safer to consumers and their data, I say “No” to having it on collegiate campuses.  I don’t want the app to access my personal information such as my financial records (and that one C I made in high school in Honors Chemistry) forcibly. It’s not safe. I don’t want what I consider to be important and private information that pertains to me to be freely given to someone who intends to hurt me. Looking at all the security flaws and what could happen and what has happened with people’s information, I can no longer support it being on the same Wi-Fi network where my most precious information lives.

The views expressed in this opinion are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of The Vision Media or North Greenville University. 

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