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Why You Should Take TikTok Off Your Phone

TickTok opened on an iPhone sitting on a table
Hannah Stryker / Review Geek

TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms out there. It can be great fun. But, the platform has dark sides that may warrant caution regarding how you interact with the service. Let’s review some reasons you may want to hit the uninstall button.

TikTok is Basically Spyware

Person holding an iPhone with TikTok open
Hannah Stryker / Review Geek

All social media apps collect a lot of data about you to enhance their recommendation algorithms. However, TikTok stands out among the crowd for the sheer amount of data it collects and sells.

According to a 2023 industry analysis conducted by internet security firm Internet 2.0, TikTok has double the industry average number of trackers in its source code. Internet 2.0 used its Malcore software to measure how much personal data popular social media app collects. TikTok earned a score of 63.1, whereas the industry average score was 28.8. In contrast, Instagram and Twitter earned scores in the mid-30s, and Facebook came in under 20. Of the score, Internet 2.0 stated “Malcore scored TikTok 63.1. This was the highest (worst) score relative to all other applications we tested. The only score close was VK, the Russian app on 62.7. The industry standard was all other major social media applications scored 34 and below with the average score being 28.8 over 21 applications.”

So, what information are you sending TikTok? Just to sign up for the service, you have to voluntarily give the app your name, age, username, email, password, phone number, and location. Furthermore, in order for the app to function correctly, it must track things like your messages, who you communicate with, and if they’ve read your messages. If you want to use cut/copy/paste, you have to grant permission for TikTok to access your clipboard. And in order to open the app with a fingerprint or FaceID, the company needs to store your biometric data. This is all standard fare for social media apps.

However, a lot is going on in the background that you may technically agree to by granting permission but don’t understand the full implications of giving up this information. For example, according to a 2022 study conducted by Internet 2.0, the TikTok app performs “device mapping,” meaning it retrieves information about all the other apps installed on your phone. It will also collect detailed technical data about your phone, including Wi-Fi SSID, device build serial number, SIM serial number, integrated circuit card identification number, device IMEI, MAC address, line number, voicemail number, GPS status information, active subscription information, and device account information. Internet 2.0 warns that the sum of the information TikTok gathers gives it “the ability to reimage the phone in the likeness of the original device,” meaning the company could duplicate your phone if it ever decided it wanted to.

Using TikTok’s in-app browser also raises some serious concerns. In 2022 software engineer and security researcher Felix Krause examined TikTok’s browser and found Java Script code that enables the company to monitor all keystrokes. This ability transforms TikTok into keylogging software capable of tracking everything you type, including sensitive information like passwords and credit card information. And although it’s purely theoretical that TikTok would ever employ that ability, Krause stated, “The fact that they have this system already is a huge risk for every user.”

It’s one thing for a social media app to collect and sell this data, as most do. However, TikTok stands out again regarding the amount of your data it shares and with whom. A 2022 study conducted by URL Genius showed that TikTok sent significantly more information to more third parties than other popular social media apps over the course of one visit. And where that information goes is a mystery. The report states, “Consumers are currently unable to see what data is shared with 3rd party networks, or how their data will be used.”

Keep in mind that TikTok isn’t alone in its data harvesting. All the other apps on your phone collect mountains of information about you to refine the algorithm and sell on to third parties. However, it’s the amount of data TikTok gathers, how aggressive it is, and how much data it sends on to other places combined that makes TikTok particularly concerning on the data collection question.

It’s an Addictive Time Sink

Young anxious woman lying in bed staring at smartphone screen

Beyond privacy concerns, another reason to consider uninstalling TikTok from your phone is that you’re probably spending too much time looking at it. And while you can blame your own lack of self-control to an extent, the app’s algorithm is meticulously designed to keep you in the app as long as possible by rewarding your brain with dopamine hits the longer you keep scrolling.

TikTok’s advanced curation algorithm and endless scrolling features create a perfect storm for digital addiction. All that information the company gathers about you not only provides a source of revenue through sales but also allows it to deliver the exact kind of content that will keep you glued to your screen for hours at a time. Additionally, the bite-sized video format is specifically engineered for quick consumption and instant gratification.

While dopamine-induced social media use isn’t good for anybody, it’s especially harmful to children and teenagers, as their brains aren’t done developing yet. Clinical director of the Center for Attention and Learning at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, Dr. Michael Manos, told the Wall Street Journal, “If kids’ brains become accustomed to constant changes, the brain finds it difficult to adapt to a nondigital activity where things don’t move quite as fast.” And while the full long-term effects of consuming rapidly rewarding content are on the developing brain, waiting until they are known risks unforeseen and potentially permanent consequences for a young person’s mind.

Its Ties to the Chinese Government Are Concerning

The Chinese flag flying in front of a building.

One of the most significant issues surrounding TikTok’s popularity is its potential ties to the government of China. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is a Chinese firm subject to that country’s laws. The concern is that the company may be compelled to hand over data on its user base to the Chinese government when demanded. However, it’s important to note that ByteDance has repeatedly stated that because data on American users are stored in U.S. and Singapore, it is not subject to Chinese disclosure laws. The company has also emphasized that it would refuse to hand over any user data if the Chinese government demanded it.

But those claims don’t go far enough for some American legislators, bureaucrats, and law enforcement officials. The U.S. recently banned the social media app on government devices citing national security concerns. The state of Montana also passed a law forbidding TikTok from being downloaded in the state. And both past and present presidential administrations have pursued the idea of banning the app entirely in America.

And it’s not just the obvious concerns about espionage. Some U.S. government officials believe the Chinese government could use the app to deliver propaganda and conduct vast influence operations on the public. In a recent appearance before Congress, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Homeland Security Committee that TikTok poses several concerns, “They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose, or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it an opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal device,” he said.

Remember that there’s been no evidence to date that the Chinese government has ever engaged in these activities. So, most of these concerns are only theoretical. But that doesn’t mean the risk doesn’t exist. And while it may be hard to tell where political posturing ends and genuine concerns begin is difficult, the idea that the Chinese government could do these things if it wanted to is valid.

TikTok Isn’t the Only One

TikTok and other Social Media apps in an app folder
Jason Montoya / Review Geek

Most of what I’ve cited in this article can apply in one way or another to every other social media app. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., are all huge time drains and deliver similarly addictive dopamine hits to keep us in the apps as long as possible. And the Chinese government is far from the first super state to engage in mass surveillance. Also, American social media companies are compelled by law to hand over certain types of user information when subpoenaed. If you feel like any of the above-cited reasons for taking TikTok off your phone apply to any other app you have installed, go ahead and take that one off too. You’ll probably be better off for it.

“So why single out TikTok?” you might ask—because it’s currently dominating the social media landscape in a way few other social networks have before. The service launched just six years ago, and it already has over a billion users. Only internet Titans like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram reach such a large swath of internet users. And the growth isn’t slowing down. By the end of 2023, TikTok’s expected to reach 1.8 billion users. For a company to grow so fast and so wide should be reason enough to at least pause to consider how this new entertainment platform affects us, individually and as a society.

But it’s not just its popularity that makes TikTok worthy of extra scrutiny. It seems to have uncovered a secret formula for user engagement and traffic. And the established names in the social media market are hurrying to replicate that success. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even Reddit have introduced TikTok-style video feeds into their applications—which may be a further reason to remove those apps from your phone too.

No, You Don’t Have to Quit TikTok Entirely

Young woman using a laptop computer.

None of this is to tell you to quit TikTok entirely. You can mitigate most of the mentioned concerns by restricting your TikTok usage to a web browser on a desktop computer or laptop. You can still watch and share all TikToks you like on a larger screen that you don’t carry around everywhere with you. The experience will be different than on your phone, but that’s kind of the point. Breaking the endless scrolling cycle is easier when you can just walk away. Although you should consider setting a timer to remind yourself to walk away if you get sucked into the algorithm.

Keeping TikTok time to a computer also means you won’t send nearly as much location data to ByteDance as you would with the app installed on your smartphone. Additionally, while using TikTok in a browser will inevitably send some of your personal data to ByteDance, it’s not near the amount you grant access to when you install the app on your phone. A desktop version of the TikTok app is available, but keeping it to a browser is probably the best for your privacy.

And why stop at TikTok? As mentioned above, various social media apps share some of TikTok’s problematic aspects to varying degrees. If you’ve found anything persuasive in this article, you may want to rethink your relationship with social media—and maybe even smartphones in general. After all, all TikTok is doing is taking advantage of the technology we carry around all day, every day. And even if TikTok went away tomorrow, another service will eventually pop up to take its place to distract us from our lives and harvest our personal information.

Danny Chadwick Danny Chadwick
Danny has been a technology journalist since 2008. He served as senior writer, as well as multimedia and home improvement editor at Top Ten Reviews until 2019. Since then, he has been a freelance contributor to Lifewire and ghostwriter for Fit Small Business. His work has also appeared on Laptop Mag, Tom’s Guide, and business.com. Read Full Bio »