What Data Does TikTok REALLY Collect?

TikTok has been in the news cycle since the days of Donald Trump and his attempted ban on TikTok and has been fired back into the spotlight again recently with the recent congressional hearing with its CEO in the US.

But what data does TikTok really collect?


TikTok is a popular social media app that has a younger user demographic than other platforms such as Facebook. TikTok allows users to create a share short videos with their followers and other users on the platform – a trend that has been worrying Google-owned rival YouTube who have in recent years launched YouTube Shorts in an attempt to combat the rise of the Chinese-owned platform.

Although a concern for a while, not only with TikTok but broadly with social media platforms following the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, the concern around the safety of data within TikTok and the accusations of excessive data collection have been given new fuel this week.

So what data does TikTok actually collect?

Data collected by TikTok is fairly extensive – but not necessarily more so than other comparable platforms – and broadly falls into 6 categories.

  • Personal Information
  • Usage Data
  • Device Information
  • Location Data
  • Contacts
  • Biometric Data

We’ll dive into how it’s collected, when and what it’s used for below.

Personal Information

When you create a TikTok account, you are asked to complete a sign up form where you provide personal information including:

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Phone Number

Usage Data

Whether you create an account or not, TikTok collects the following information about how you use the app including:

  • Watched videos
  • Duration of time that you watch a video and how many times you watch it
  • Users content that you show an interest in (e.g. by watching it)
  • Your searches

This data is collecting constantly whilst you are using the app.

Device Information

Again, whether you create an account or not, TikTok collects information about the device you are using the access the TikTok app. This has many legitimate purposes including ensuring compatibility of the app with a wide variety of devices.

Information includes:

  • Device Type
  • Operating system (e.g. Android, iOS)
  • Device ID/IMEI

Location Data

Many social media applications, including TikTok, collect information about your location whilst you are using the app. Numerous social media websites use this information to enable features that have emerged over the years such as tagging your posts with a location and localising the content for the area that you are in.

Information includes:

  • Your current location
  • Your location history

Contacts (optional)

Data from your contacts is collected by gaining an additional approval from you to share you contacts with TikTok in order to find (and hopefully follow) people that you know. If you give permission it will collect information from your contacts such as:

  • Their Name
  • Their Phone Number
  • Their E-mail Address

This falls into grey legal territory given the fact that you are sharing personal information about other people – likely without most, if not all, of them NOT giving you informed consent.

Biometric Data

Probably the most scary sounding and fear inducing one of them all – TikTok does collect biometric data. This includes:

  • Facial recognition data

This data is what US congressmen and women seemed to be most concerned about in the recent hearing. The potential for exploitation here is huge. However, there are some legitimate features such as adding filters and augmented reality features which do require this data – but the potential for misuse is huge and is likely to spur further legislation and data protections from agencies and governments around the world.

Is it excessive?

It’s hard to answer this definitively. Sure, it’s a lot of data. However, it’s likely not out of the norm for the typical social media platform these days. That doesn’t mean it’s right – and there are calls for regulation of social media due to a variety of scandals both at home in the UK and abroad.

TikTok has legitimate uses for this data to help provide users with a personalised experience. And the reason that they want to do this ultimately? To earn money. Google cornered the market with Adsense years ago with this strategy.

The latest concerns however tend to be portrayed about the type of data being collected when, in reality, the concern is likely where the data is stored and who has access to it. After all, most commentators suggest that ‘data is the new oil’ in relation to its value.

Examples of legitimate ways that TikTok uses this data are for recommending videos that you might be interested in or localising the content and advertisements to your current location. Does this mean it cannot be abused though? Absolutely not.

Fears persist about how the data is potentially available to the Chinese government through it’s National Security Act and how this might be (ab)used for purposes that users nor their governments consent to. Previously tech giants have been predominantly based in the US – so you could argue that the Chinese government (and others) have the same legitimate fears about these platforms.

Final Thoughts

For many people, particular younger adults and teenagers, TikTok is a part of daily life – and this is unlikely to change minus any drastic intervention from Western governments. However, the current scandal engulfing TikTok is likely to be having YouTube’s Google rubbing their hands with glee that a key competitor appears to be in the firing line.

TikTok does collect a lot of data and does appear to be taking steps to protect user privacy and has placed this information both on the TikTok website as well as parent ByteDance’s websites. These strict data protection policies and security measures are capable of protecting the user data from both unauthorised access and misuse – but only if these policies are followed and implemented in good faith of course. And this can be hard to verify for any private company without a trusted third-party going in.

As with any social media platform, the importance of managing your data and your digital footprint have never been more important and it is of crucial importance that users of ALL social media platforms ensure they educate themselves about what data is being collected about them in addition to the data that they are handing over willingly and steps they can take to protect their privacy.

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