TikTok is fun. TikTok is addictive. TikTok is…risky? There’s a lot of debate about the app’s privacy and security, especially with its parent company, ByteDance, operating out of Beijing. The previous White House administration very nearly banned the app from U.S. markets. I’m not sure how much of my TikTok data is being siphoned off to governments unknown, but I do know this: There are settings you can tweak to maintain a greater level of privacy on TikTok.
Let’s be fair: Most free apps (and many paid ones) exist to feed off your data (all eyes on you, Meta). It’s no surprise, then, that TikTok, a free app, isn’t all too concerned with making your experience private. However, I find one aspect of the app to be particularly aggressive: Contact sharing.
TikTok really wants to share your account with everyone you know. From a business perspective, sure, makes sense: The app wants more users. However, I’m not a fan. I don’t use TikTok for the community. I’m here to watch funny videos. If I have a clip I want to share with people, I do it outside of TikTok. I have no reason to connect with people I know on the app.
TikTok goes beyond what you might expect from an app in terms of “sharing” your account with others. The social media company wants to send your deets to not only you contacts, nor only your Facebook friends, but also people who know the people you know, as well as people who open or send links to you. That doesn’t fly with me, and it probably shouldn’t fly with you either.
Let’s take a look at some settings you can change to stop this type of behaviour, as well as to plug some other privacy and security holes in the app.
Top TikTok from suggesting your account to others
To stop TikTok from suggesting your account to everyone and their mother, tap the Profile tab, then choose the hamburger menu icon in the top-right and head to Settings and privacy > Privacy > Suggest your account to others. From here, disable all four relevant options, including “Contacts,” “Facebook friends,” “People with mutual connections,” and “People who open or send links to you.”
Sidenote: I’m pretty sure I’ve told the app 1,000 times that I don’t want to share my account with my contacts. I’m not sure if it’s because I use the app on multiple devices or what, but all four options were still enabled for me. Sneaky.
Turn off sync for contacts and Facebook friends
If you’re thinking, “Wait, didn’t I just disable these options?” buckle up. Just below “Suggest your account to others,” you’ll find “Sync contacts and Facebook friends.” This settings option is slightly different, since they allow TikTok to periodically check out your phone’s contacts and your Facebook friends to see if there are any new people to add to their lists. Fun!
Check this settings page to see if either option is enabled for your account, and swiftly disable those options if so. In addition, you’ll have the option to “Remove contacts” or “Remove Facebook friends” if your account has any of those types of contacts saved. If the options appear dim, that’s your sign there aren’t any connected contacts.
My experience? Both these options were disabled, and my “Remove Facebook friends” option was dim. But, my “Remove contacts” option was bright red, indicating TikTok had my contacts. You best believe I removed them.
Turn on two-factor verification
Let’s take a break from TikTok’s aggressive social connections and look at a setting that will simply protect your account from hackers: two-factor authentication (2FA), is a powerful security feature. Normally, you log into accounts by entering the correct username and password. With 2FA, you need a second form of authentication, usually from either a text message code, or confirmation from a trusted device. If you don’t have this feature set up yet, you should do so now.
To start, head to Settings and privacy > Security and login > 2-step verification. From here, you can choose at least two verification methods, between SMS, email, and your password. Once you prove your connection to the methods you choose, 2FA will be set.
Disable camera and microphone permissions
If you’re like me, you use TikTok exclusively for watching other people’s content. As such, there is no reason the app needs permission to access your phone’s camera and microphone. Yet, most of us probably give the app those permissions anyway.
There’s no evidence that TikTok is spying on us through our cameras and mics. But why give an app with a less than stellar track record for privacy the benefit of the doubt?
On iOS, you can disable these permissions from your iPhone’s Settings app. Tap on TikTok, then disable the toggles next to “Microphone” and “Camera.” On Android, head to Settings > Apps > TikTok > Permissions, then tap “Camera” and “Microphone” and make sure “Don’t Allow” is selected for each.
Check that you’ve disabled permission for contacts in settings as well
Always with the damn contacts, TikTok. Even after you go through the in-app settings, you may still find TikTok has permission from your phone’s OS to access your contacts. It’s sly, but we’re onto TikTok.
From the same permissions pages as the previous step, you can ensure TikTok doesn’t have access to your friends and family by disabling “Contacts.”
Disable Allow Tracking (iOS)
With iOS 14.5, Apple gave users the ability to stop apps from tracking their every move. When you updated your iPhone, these apps all needed to ask your permission before tracking you. Unless you feel particularly passionate about offering up your data to add another zero onto Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth, you probably want to deny tracking permissions to these apps.
However, since you might have seen these pop-ups so many times, you might’ve accidentally tapped “yes.” To check if TikTok has permission to track you, head to iOS Settings > TikTok, then make sure the toggle next to “Allow Tracking” is disabled.
If you want this setting to apply to all apps and not just TikTok, instead head to Settings > Privacy > Tracking, then disable “Allow Apps to Request to Track.”