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Photo: ANI
Photo: ANI

When TikTok raised eyebrows over privacy

From cyber security firms and UK’s IOC, to US FTC, US army and navy, they have all been wary of its privacy practices

NEW DELHI : The 59 Chinese apps, which were banned by the Indian government on Monday, have been accused of putting Indian users’ privacy at risk. While the government hasn’t clarified how they have risked or violated the user’s privacy, this wouldn’t be the first time such platforms and services have been found to be affecting their users this way.

Short-video platform TikTok was among 53 apps found last week to be repeatedly accessing users’ clipboards, which is where phones and computers place data that has been cut or copied. The violation was happening silently and without the user’s knowledge, and people only found out because of a new feature in iOS 14, which flags such things. TikTok later said it would stop doing this and that it had submitted a new version to Apple’s App Store.

While accessing the clipboard is a privacy violation, the clipboard on phones is also designed to be accessed silently. Many apps access it to look for passwords copied from password managers, and other data.

Once again, in January this year, cybersecurity firm, Check Point Software Technologies Ltd reported “evidence of potential risks" in TikTok.

“The vulnerabilities we found were all core to TikTok’s systems," said Oded Vanunu, Check Point’s head of product vulnerability research, at the time. The firm said it had informed TikTok about the problems and that the app had fixed them.

TikTok’s privacy practices were questioned by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last year. The company eventually paid $5.7 million for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK was also investigating TikTok for a similar violation.

Nor is the Indian government the only one to distrust Chinese apps. In December last year, the US navy urged its staff and soldiers to delete TikTok from government-issued phones. The US army followed suit later.

TikTok has reiterated multiple times and did again on Tuesday, that it doesn’t share data with any government, including the Chinese. “If we are requested to in the future we would not do so. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity," Nikhil Gandhi, TikTok’s India head, said in a statement.

UC Browser, another app on the Indian list, has also been found to be risking its users’ privacy many times. Brussels-based civic-tech group, CitizenLab, had found security and privacy violations in the English and Chinese versions of the app in 2015. Vulnerabilities had also been found in the UC Browser in March and May last year.

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