Italian secret services have received a mandate to study the use that TikTok makes of users' data. Is national security at risk?
TikTok again under the magnifying glass of the 007, this time of the Italian ones: after the investigations of the National Security Agency, which led to the prohibition for American soldiers to use the app on government phones, now comes the mandate to the Italian secret services to investigate the Chinese social network.
According to Il Messaggero, in fact, the Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic (Copasir) would have given a mandate to Aise, the Agency for External Information and Security, and to Dis, the Department of Security Intelligence, to open an investigation on the use of user data by TikTok. In practice, the Italian intelligence services must understand where personal data and content uploaded on the social network by 6.4 million Italian users end up and how they are used. Because, apparently, it's not only a privacy problem but even a national security one.
The main problem of TikTok is that it is developed by the Chinese company ByteDance that, like all Chinese companies working on the Web, is required to make the collected data available to government authorities. TikTok's servers are all in China, so the data of Italian users end up on a Chinese server and can be controlled by Chinese authorities without any limitation. But, as always when it comes to smartphone apps, the problem is not only the data that the user (in this case mostly minors) voluntarily enters in the app (in this case uploading a short video). TikTok, in fact, asks and obtains from the user a long series of permissions to access the smartphone.
What TikTok can do on your device
Just go to the Play Store page of TikTok to read the permissions required by the app to work. There are really many and all of them are "high level". TikTok, once installed, can: access the device's history and know what other apps are installed; access the smartphone owner's personal data and add or remove accounts; access all photos, media items and files on the device; record audio; know Wi-Fi network information; record video and take photos; read the contact list; read, edit and delete the contents of a USB memory connected to the device; read Home settings and shortcuts; receive data from the Internet; prevent the device from going into power saving; expand/compress the status bar; uninstall shortcuts; control flash; run code at device startup; control device vibration; install shortcuts; view network connections; reorder running apps; create accounts and set passwords; enable and disable synchronization; have full network access; change audio settings; use accounts on the device.
Why TikTok is Potentially Dangerous
Many other apps (even famous ones) require, and get on installation, a list of permissions similar to TikTok's. The latter, however, has the "defect" of being a Chinese app and, as such, the developer is subject to Chinese regulations. Which is anything but respectful of privacy. But that's not all: with access to microphone and camera, the app can virtually be used remotely to spy on the user and, of course, send the recorded files to China. Where, once again, a government official can view that file and do what he or she wants with it.