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It comes with all of the same privacy concerns as apps like Facebook. Here’s what you can do.
Over the past few years, TikTok has gone from being a niche platform for memes and dances to one of the world’s most popular apps. And along the way, it has become one more tech company vacuuming up data about its users.
It does this in all of the same ways other social media companies do—and it uses that information for a lot of the same purposes.
TikTok harnesses the data it gathers up for targeted ads, tuning its algorithms, and possibly other purposes the company doesn’t disclose.
You can’t expect total privacy if you use the app, but there are a few things you can do to improve the situation. Below, you’ll find TikTok’s most important privacy settings. Some of these controls set limits on how TikTok uses your information, while some help keep your account private from other users. We’ve even got tips on some outside tools that can help protect your privacy as well.
If you want complete control over who sees your TikTok profile, set the whole account to private. That way, people won’t be able to access any information aside from the fact that you have an account unless you individually let them follow you. (Be aware that if you set your account to private, it won’t change what your existing followers can see.)
You can also fine-tune two aspects of what other people can see, whether your account is set to private or not.
First, by default, anyone who can see the details of your profile can also see a list of the accounts you follow. You can turn that feature off. A second feature lets people see a list of all the videos you’ve liked, though that one is off by default. You can change that, too.
To make your account private: Tap the profile icon in the bottom right > Open the menu in the top right > Settings and privacy > Private account.
To hide your liked videos and followed accounts: Go to your profile > Open the menu in the top right > Settings and privacy > Following list > Only me. Then do the same with “Liked videos.”
Most people think of TikTok as a social media company, but it makes its money through advertising. One of the ways advertising networks like TikTok’s figure out your interests is by gathering information about the people you know. Understanding social groups helps tech companies design more effective marketing campaigns.
TikTok gives you a few options to prevent the app from capturing details on who your friends are. You might simply want to keep the details of your life away from TikTok’s prying eyes, but it’s also a good way to prevent TikTok from inviting everyone you know to view your profile, if you want to do that.
If you’ve been syncing your contacts from your phone, your email account, and other sources, you can turn off that access. You can also delete any contacts that TikTok has already copied. You can also tell TikTok you don’t want it to suggest your account to other people, which is a good way to be a little more discreet if you’re not interested in having followers on the platform.
To tell TikTok to stop suggesting your account: Go to your profile > Open the menu in the top right > Settings and privacy > Suggest your account to others > Switch off the toggles of your choice.
To turn off contact syncing: Go to your profile > Open the menu in the top right > Settings and privacy > Sync contacts and Facebook friends > Switch off the toggles. If you’ve already let TikTok collect this information, you can tap “Remove previously synced contacts.”
Don’t want your account to get hacked? There’s a critical setting you need to turn on. Without it, you’re significantly more vulnerable.
It’s a tool referred to as multifactor authentication, sometimes called MFA or two-factor authentication. Here’s how it works: When you’re logging in on a new device, the app will ask for your password and then send a special code to your phone or your email address. No one will be able to log in unless they have both your password and the code. That makes it harder for attackers to access your account.
This is one of the most important things you can do to protect your security, not just on TikTok but on any account where MFA is available. Sure, it makes it a little more cumbersome when you’re logging in—but it’s a lot more convenient than getting your account hacked.
To set up multifactor authentication: Go to your profile > Open the menu in the top right > Security and log in > 2-step verification > Follow the prompts.
TikTok makes informed guesses about what topics you’re interested in and what ads to show you as a result. You can exert some control over this by choosing certain topics that TikTok shouldn’t consider when targeting ads toward you. The categories you can exclude are pretty broad, such as babies and kids, education, and household products. But that level of control could be useful if there’s a particular subject you’d like to steer away from.
To disable certain ad topics: Go to your profile > Open the menu in the top right > Settings and privacy > Ads personalization > How your ads are personalized > Once the screen loads, select the topic you want to avoid.
Social media privacy issues aren’t limited to social media apps. Businesses that want to advertise on TikTok can send the company tons of data about what you do on other parts of the internet by incorporating bits of TikTok code into their websites and apps. The information is used to make predictions about your behavior and the things you’re interested in, which helps determine which ads you see. Meta (formerly Facebook) uses similar technology to get a broader picture of who you are and how you spend your time, as do Google and some other companies.
TikTok doesn’t offer a way to block the flow of that information, but it does let you control whether the data gets used for targeted ads.
This setting comes with important caveats. You’ll see the same number of ads, and you’ll still see targeted ads based on what you do on the TikTok app. The company may still use the data from other platforms in additional ways. But turn this setting off and at least the data other companies funnel to TikTok algorithms will be off limits for some advertising purposes.
To limit targeted ads: Go to your profile > Open the menu in the top right > Settings and privacy > Ads personalization > Use of Off-TikTok activity for ad targeting > Toggle the setting off.
As described above, TikTok’s tracking code is embedded on apps and websites across the internet, along with similar code from other companies. You can’t stop all tracking, but you can make a solid dent in it by choosing the right browser and by installing an ad-blocking extension such as Disconnect, uBlock Origin, or Privacy Badger on your browser. Ad blockers don’t just block ads; they do a lot to stop online tracking, too. You can also get tracker-blocking apps for your phone. And while you’re at it, try a more private web browser. Safari, Firefox, and DuckDuckGo’s Privacy Browser (available for mobile devices) promise to block certain cookies and other kinds of trackers.
I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that’s why I spend my time chasing it down. When I’m off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( email@example.com) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.
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