It takes just 5 minutes to take back your privacy from TikTok

Emma McGowan 30 Nov 2020

Secure your presence on TikTok with this set of privacy-centric tips

If there’s been one big winner of lockdown, it’s TikTok. One of the newest — and certainly most successful — social media apps to hit the scene, the app went from relative obscurity to household name as people found themselves stuck inside. Bored and with nothing else to do, kids, teens, moms, dads, and even grandmas turned to app formerly known as to create quick, fun videos together.

There was also the controversy earlier this year when the Trump administration tried to ban TikTok in the United States because of its Chinese parent company. And while there’s been a lot of back and forth about whether or not the company shares data with the Chinese government, the general consensus now seems to be that it doesn’t. (Do what you want with that perspective because, honestly, it’s not like we haven’t seen social media companies lie about their data collection and storage before.)

When it comes to data collection, TikTok is up there with its American cousins. By which I mean: It’s bad. The app collects information on you as soon as you download it, whether you use it or not. If you do sign up, it tracks the usual stuff that companies that want to sell you advertising track: location data, which videos you watch, all of the content of all of your messages, cookies, your comments, your phone model and operation system, everything you touch, and your contacts. TikTok has also been shown to hide which data they’re collecting.

Some people argue that TikTok doesn’t gather any more data that social media companies that were created in the United States (looking at you, Facebook), as if that somehow makes it okay. But we’d like to take the opposite stance: It’s precisely because TikTok collects as much data as American social media companies that we should be wary. 

While we didn’t know what we were getting into when Facebook launched, we certainly know now. So if you decide you can’t live without TikTok, then you’re consciously choosing to give up that information about yourself. And that’s a fine choice to make! But be aware that’s what’s going on.

And if you do want to keep hanging out on TikTok, we’re here to help you take back at least a little of your privacy on this week’s Privacy Refresh.

Monday: Put these steps in your calendar

Monday is the easiest day! All you have to do is put each step into your calendar. I recommend choosing the same time every day, so that it becomes a habit. And if you’ve already done our Facebook Privacy Refresh and Instagram Privacy Refresh, you can just keep on going with that same time you’ve been using already!

Another suggestion: Put the full text of each tip into the actual calendar event. That way you don’t have to go searching for this article every day — you can just click on the notification when it pops up and have everything you need, right there.

Tuesday: Register a fake email address

If you’re going to truly take back some of your privacy from TikTok, you’re going to have to start at square one. And square one in this case is creating a burner email address.

A burner email — which is an email address that you only use for specific things and that isn’t linked to you elsewhere — makes it much more difficult for companies to track you. You can easily create one for free on Gmail, but just be sure not to link it to your main account. Even better? Use a different email service than the one you usually use, so you don’t accidentally hook them up.

Wednesday: Put it on a burner phone

Not everyone has a million phones lying around, but your best move for security and privacy with TikTok is to follow Kara Swisher’s example and put it on a burner. The legendary journalist is an unapologetic fan of the social media site — but she’s not so sure she can trust it. As a precaution, she has a designated phone just for TikTok.

You can either use an old phone or buy a cheap one for this purpose. But if that sounds like too much, consider adding a solid VPN or a secure browser to your phone in order to encrypt  and protect your traffic.

Thursday: Don’t log in

If you just want to watch videos and don’t care about making any yourself, avoid actually logging in to the app. As I mentioned before, TikTok will still gather information about your device, whether you log in or not, but choosing not to log in does take away a really big amount of data that they could potentially collect.

If you do want to make videos as well, this is where your burner email address comes in! Sign in with that email address and a fake name to limit the real info TikTok can collect on you.

Friday: Turn off location tracking

This is a good privacy-protecting move regardless: Turn off Location Services on your phone. If you’ve already done this, awesome! You get a free day today. But if not, if you have an iPhone you can find this setting in Settings, then Privacy, the Location Services. Toggle off. In Android, to to App Drawer, then Settings, then Location, and then Google Location Settings. Here you can turn off Location Reporting and Location History.

Saturday:  Manage some third-party advertising

While TikTok doesn’t let you do much in-app to control your privacy, they do let you manage some third-party advertising. You have to go to two websites off-app, which you can find here and here

You can also opt out of some targeted advertising right on your phone. On iOS, go to Settings, Privacy, Advertising, and toggle the Limit Ad Tracking option to on.

Sunday: Binge 

Go watch as many videos in a row as you can. We won’t judge — you earned it.

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