👣 Tick, Tock, Swipe, Track
Every keystroke you make in TikTok's web browser can be tracked, according to new research by Felix Krause. The former Google engineer turned privacy researcher said it was not clear if and how TikTok was using the function, but that the popular social media platform was capable of tracking “users’ online habits if it chose to do so,” reports The New York Times. To be clear, the functionality only applies to the browser window that opens when you click a link to something outside the app.
“The way TikTok’s custom in-app browser monitors keystrokes is problematic, as the user might enter their sensitive data such as login credentials on external websites,” Jane Manchun Wong, a security researcher told the Times. This data could then be used to surveil users across the internet.
TikTok has responded to the research stating that the findings are misleading and that the feature is for “debugging, troubleshooting and performance monitoring.” The company added that “contrary to the report’s claims, we do not collect keystroke or text inputs through this code.”
TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have been the subject of much privacy data scrutiny in the US. To be sure, Meta has fueled the company's negative image through a smear campaign carried out by political consulting firm Targeted Victory, says Engadget. Even so, earlier this year, nine Republican senators sent a letter to TikTok's head with concerns about the privacy of Americans' data. CEO Shou Zi Chew assured the senators that the company is currently transferring American user data over to Oracle's servers.
TikTok has become a sort of defacto boogieman both for American politicians' crusade against China and for Silicon Valley tech giants fearful of its ascension. This makes the social media platform a hot target, yet, would we be more comfortable if Instagram or Gmail were tracking our every keystroke?