The Indian government has made the sweeping decision to ban TikTok and 58 other smartphone apps following revelations that the Chinese company has been using TikTok and other programs like it to steal private data from users who have the apps installed on their phone.
Last week, the beta release of iOS 14 revealed that TikTok has been accessing the iPhone’s clipboard after pledging to stop the practice months ago. Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge showed video evidence to explain how TikTok accesses this data.
A spokesperson for TikTok told The Verge that the feature was "designed to identify repetitive, spammy behaviour," adding that they planned to remove it.
However, TikTok has gone beyond simply copying the contents of user’s clipboards. A Redditor named "Bangor", who reverse-engineered the Chinese app, described TikTok as a "data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network. If there is an API to get information on you, your contacts, or your device… well, they’re using it."
He described how the app siphons information that shouldn’t otherwise be available to it, including your phone’s hardware specs, a list of every app you have installed, network-related data and address points, GPS pinging, and other private information.
The hacker, who claims to have reverse engineered Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter apps, said that these other programs "don’t collect anywhere near the same amount of data that TikTok does, and they sure as hell aren’t outright trying to hide exactly what’s being sent like TikTok does."
"TikTok is essentially malware that is targeting children. Don't use TikTok. Don't let your friends and family use it," the Reddit user wrote.
The Indian government released a statement following the ban of the 59 apps, which they refer to as "prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order."
The government states that the apps, which are available on both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms, were "stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India,” in the statement shared by IndiaToday editor Shiv Aroor.
"The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures," the statement reads.
The government deployed its Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) following reports from the public, as well as representatives in the Indian parliament, over privacy and security concerns posed by the Chinese apps.