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TikTok faces backlash over privacy concerns by tracking users

Employee data privacy at work. Booking and purchasing with credit card online at workspace

TikTok, the wildly popular short-form Chinese video platform, is under intense scrutiny following revelations of a mass breach of privacy. Recent reports shed light on the company’s extensive tracking of users’ online activities, fuelling concerns about data security and privacy infringement.

The uproar stems from TikTok’s alleged tracking practices, where the app monitors users’ behaviour outside its platform, even when they are not actively engaged with the app. The tracking function, known as a pixel, works in the background to collect information such as email addresses, mobile phone numbers, and browsing histories. Generally, this tracking is used by websites and apps for legitimate purposes, but it has been revealed that TikTok does not wait for user consent and scrapes data whenever possible, breaching Australia’s privacy regulations. This code tracks data even if the user does not have a TikTok account.

Australia’s information commissioner has requested an immediate investigation into this data tracking. Australian marketers have also issued warnings to clients recommending the removal of the pixel from their websites. Critics argue that TikTok’s data collection practices via this manner are not only invasive but also present a significant risk in terms of potential misuse or unauthorised access to sensitive user information. Despite being similar to the data collection practices of Google and Meta, the distinguishing factor is the intent of collection.

The incident has reignited the debate about the need for stringent regulations to safeguard user privacy in the digital age. Users are increasingly becoming aware of the value of their personal data and are demanding greater transparency from tech companies about how their information is collected, stored, and utilised.

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