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I actually read Tiktok’s terms and conditions: here’s what you need to know

Alex Gaines ’25
TikTok has access to virtually all of the data on your phone by using devices such as keyloggers.

The first time I downloaded TikTok was the summer of 2019. I remember the moment vividly: a colorful array of velvet scrunchies covering my wrists, a venti strawberry açaí in one hand and an oversized hydroflask in the other. I pressed a few buttons on my rose gold iPhone seven, confirming that I was 13 or older (I wasn’t), that I had read and accepted the terms and conditions (I hadn’t) and immediately searched for a video of Charli D’Amelio doing the renegade, which I attempted to replicate that night with my friend. 

For that reason, it’s hard to understand why Congress has recently issued TikTok an ultimatum: sell to an American company or prepare to be shut down. After all, high schoolers like me have practically grown up with the app, from Musically to its current form, knowing it solely as the platform that taught us how to “woah,” introduced us to countless soundbites that now dominate our vocabulary (“oh that’s not—”) and allowed us to binge-watch entire seasons of Modern Family in 2-minute increments. It’s almost a joke to imagine any kind of valuable information being poached by the Chinese government through the same social media site that started the “berries and cream” trend.

The details of TikTok’s privacy features (or, more fittingly, the lack thereof) are hidden in the fine print, designed to be borderline unreachable. In order to truly determine the extent to which TikTok has been violating its users’ privacy, therefore, I had to do the impossible.

I read the Terms and Conditions.

I’m serious. You know that paragraph of text miles long, the one that you race to scroll through as fast as you possibly can? I recently became the first person in human history to actually read it, beginning to end. And the stipulations hidden between the lines made me reconsider my entire opinion on the TikTok issue. 

There is no doubt that TikTok has been collecting an obscene amount of data from its users.

— Angelina Matra '25

I typically try not to “irrevocably grant… perpetual and unlimited permission,” to anyone, in any context. However, some variation of that line begins virtually every paragraph in TikTok’s Terms and Conditions. The platform has the right to “a royalty-free license to use your user name, image, voice, and likeness.” It is also unafraid to “disclose your identity to any third party.” And you can forget about intellectual property rights; by checking that little box, you have granted TikTok an “unconditional, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual worldwide license” for the usage of your content, including by modifying or otherwise manipulating it, whether that be through TikTok or another platform “hereinafter invented.” 

To translate, TikTok can take your videos, photos, likeness or voice and do with them essentially anything it wants, with no attribution, until what seems like the end of time.  

Surprisingly, these conditions are relatively common among social media platforms. So while certainly constituting cause for alarm, they don’t necessarily distinguish TikTok from other apps like Facebook or Instagram that are not currently under Congressional interrogation, despite holding their users to similar rules. The real secret to TikTok is its Privacy Policy, a second swamp of legal-ese hidden so well by a single blue hyperlink that no one in their right mind would ever click on and read.

Except for me, apparently.

By now, most people probably know that TikTok tracks your activity to customize your “For You Page” and target advertisements. However, according to the Privacy Policy, TikTok also keeps track of your IP address, connected audio devices, time zone settings, battery state, device model and so much more. Back in 2019, the TikTok overlords even knew I had a rose gold iPhone seven.

“We automatically assign you a device ID and user ID. Where you log-in from multiple devices, we will be able to use information… to identify your activity across devices. We may also associate you with information collected from devices other than those you use to log-in to [TikTok].” This excerpt, along with the clause that permits TikTok to collect data on other apps and files outside of their own platform, means that the app and its developers have access to virtually everything you do online—including the devices you don’t even use for TikTok.

Easily the most concerning of all, TikTok records the “keystroke patterns or rhythms” of its users with a Java code equivalent to a keylogger. A keylogger is a piece of software, typically used by hackers, that monitors every keystroke and click on a device. This information can be used to decode credit cards, Social Security numbers, passwords and a whole host of other sensitive information. And don’t forget, this extensive data tracking isn’t isolated to your phone; it occurs on every device TikTok has determined to be yours through its extensive user ID network. 

There is no doubt that TikTok has been collecting an obscene amount of data from its users. Congress has understandably been worried about security breaches leaking valuable information from US citizens and government workers to TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance. 

However, even more pressing than the highly politicized aspects of this issue is what it means for our cultural attitude towards social media. TikTok is the most recent in a large chain of sites that has been collecting, manipulating and monetizing our data. As consumers, we must demand more transparency from corporations and our government. It should not be the norm to have keystroke-tracking software automatically downloaded on our devices without our consent, or to scroll through miles of fine print detailing all the malicious ways an app is tracking us. We shouldn’t be so used to being taken advantage of that we simply shrug and claim that we don’t care how our data is being used. 

I don’t believe TikTok is all bad. Those nights, doing the renegade in my black-and-white checkered Vans and AC/DC t-shirt, are nostalgic—albeit embarrassing—memories for me. However, it is extremely important to understand what is going on behind the scenes of the platform in order to make educated decisions regarding our own privacy and data. 

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About the Contributors
Angelina Matra '25
Angelina Matra '25, Paper Opinions Editor
Paper Opinions Editor Angelina Matra ’25 had anything but a cruel summer. This June she attended Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “My friend and I went as ‘Reputation’ and ‘Lover,’” Matra said. “We even got one of my favorite songs, ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine,’ as one of our surprise songs.” Matra spent her summer working at Peak Performance and edited the Back to School issue of Inklings. After taking Introduction to Journalism, Matra discovered her love for journalism and pursued a paper editor position.  “I really liked it and I just thought I’ll do more of this,” Matra said.
Alex Gaines ’25
Alex Gaines ’25, Creative Director
Creative Director Alex Gaines ’25 is no stranger to the newsroom. Gaines became intrigued by journalism at Ursus, where she was in awe at the complex layouts Inklings produced. “I used to always compare our papers to the Inklings papers,” Gaines said. “I remember being intrigued by the layouts, which I think drew me to the creative director position.” Though being creative director is a full time job, Gaines still finds time to pursue her other ambitions. “I took a class at UCLA on marketing,” Gaines said. “It was super interesting because I definitely want to pursue something in business.”  

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