TikTok: Dangerous by design

“TikTok can’t be fixed. Its problems lie in its very conception and the culture behind it. My advice is to avoid it like the plague. Don’t say you weren’t warned.”

Dr. Enrique Dans


Crushing both Instagram and YouTube in many of its global markets, the video-sharing social network phenomenon TikTok has racked up more than 2 billion downloads since its explosive 2017 launch. The app's legions of Gen Z fans are intensely loyal. But its critics are intensely worried. 

Among those sounding the alarm is Dr. Enrique Dans, Senior Advisor for Digital Transformation at IE University, Madrid. Writing this week in Forbes, he makes the case that TikTok isn’t simply riddled with security issues. It is, in his words, “dangerous by design.” 

Too old to understand?

It’s no wonder TikTok’s youthful user base is so loyal, Dans notes. This “viral meme-generating machine,” he says, “makes users feel like rock stars.”

Critics of the app - citing the company’s evasive and irresponsible response to a host of baked-in privacy violations  - are likely to hear they’re simply too old to understand.  Yet the rollcall of complainants continues to mount alarmingly.

The US armed forces, for example. They have forbidden military personnel to use TikTok, and have declared it a cybersecurity threat. Are they too old to understand?

tiktokflagHow about global IT security provider Check Point? Their investigation of TikTok concluded the app has multiple sneaky backdoors and massive vulnerabilities, allowing hackers to gain control of users’ personal accounts and private information. 

Steve Huffman, the co-founder and CEO of Reddit, is apparently also too old to understand. He described TikTok recently as a ‘fundamentally parasitic app that is always listening.” In fact, he regards it as spyware. 

Dozens of child advocacy groups have charged TikTok with ignoring rules designed to protect children, by leaving under-age kids’ videos up and failing to obtain parental consent before gathering data on them. (Last year, TikTok was forced to pay a record-breaking $5.7 million fine to the US Federal Trade Commission to settle similar claims.) 

This week, it was revealed that even Apple is evidently too old to understand, after claims it caught TikTok using clipboard capture technology to creep on millions of users. 

Constant capture of user data 

Dans is adamant that issues like this are not owing to carelessness, but reflect instead “a deep and patent irresponsibility, a philosophy focused on the constant capture of all kinds of user data. … We want to see everything, know everything, analyze everything without limits.”


TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, has strenuously denied that it is under the influence of the Chinese government, or that it censors content at the government’s direction.  But Dans and many other observers remain unconvinced. 

For all these reasons, plus a recommendation system Dans describes as “sinister,” he insists the app is beyond unsuitable for users of any age, including adults. It is, he says, “a public danger.”

“TikTok can’t be fixed. Its problems lie in its very conception and the culture behind it. My advice is to avoid it like the plague. Don’t say you weren’t warned.”


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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, privacy, tiktok, cyber security

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