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TikTok Is Watching You – Even If You Don’t Have an Account

We all know that social media apps and other websites track and collect our data when we sign up for them. TikTok is no different. However, did you know that TikTok is tracking your data even if you never sign up for an account? A VICE reporter investigated and discovered the shocking truth. (1)

Account or Not, TikTok is Tracking You

Last year in 2020, TikTok made headlines as people worldwide were concerned about what information the app was sharing with its parent company, ByteDance. Since then, more questions have shrouded many TikTok and other social media companies for what information they’re collecting on us, how much, and most importantly, how that information is being used. (1)

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According to TikTok’s privacy policy, they can collect data from people who go on the app without an account. This information gets shared with other sites such as Facebook. (1)

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“[We] collect certain information from you when you use the Platform, including when you are using the app without an account.” The policy reads. (2)

An Italian VICE reporter decided to see what information TikTok had on him, despite having never made an account. However, he has used the app to watch videos because you can watch videos without having an account of your own. (1)

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“I’ve never actually created a profile on TikTok,” he explains in his article. “If you open the website on your browser, you can scroll through content without signing up, although certain features – like commenting, following accounts and uploading content – can only be used with a profile.” (1)

If you have a TikTok account, you simply need to follow these steps in order to download all of the data they have stored on you. He doesn’t have an account, so he emailed the company to request the information. (1)

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Read: This Simple Tool Will Help You See What Websites Know About You

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Getting The Information

At first, the company claimed that they could not identify his data because they could not verify him without an account. They said they needed an email address to do so, which he, of course, was unable to give. (1)

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What the reporter did know was one of the ways TikTok collects data on non-account holding users is via their IP address on their phone. Using his IP address and his IDFV (ID for vendors), he was able to prove his identity. TikTok then agreed to send him all of the data that they had. (1)

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Hundreds of Thousands of Data Units

The amount of data that TikTok had on him, after using it without an account and only for two months, will shock you. With both of the files they sent him combined, they had over 380,000 units of data about his activity. (1)

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Besides knowing what videos he had watched and at what time, they also knew his (1):

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  • Device type
  • Screen resolution
  • Telephone operator
  • Operating system
  • IP address
  • Another separate device-identifying code

This naturally has many people worried, especially for many of the young people who use the app. A 12-year-old girl in the UK sued TikTok for illegally using children’s data, and in 2019 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined the company $5.7 million for violating US children’s privacy laws. (1, 3) TikTok announced on January 16 that the new default setting for those under 16 is “private.” (3)

Not Just TikTok

As already mentioned, TikTok isn’t the only app doing this. Nearly every website and phone app that you go, be it Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, or Amazon, track your activity and store data about you in some capacity. There are certain privacy settings you can enable to prevent this somewhat, but you can’t stop it entirely. 

If you decide to be on social media and use the internet, you do so knowing that these companies will have information about you, for better or for worse.

Keep Reading: How to Hear and Delete Everything Google Has Recorded You Saying

References

  1. “TikTok Is Watching You – Even If You Don’t Have an Account.” VICE. Riccardo Coluccini. January 21, 2021.
  2. TikTok
  3. TikTok update will change privacy settings and defaults for users under 18.” Techcrunch. Sarah Perez. January 13, 2021.
Julie Hambleton
Freelance Writer
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.
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