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Does TikTok know you better than your mother? How to ask for the data it stores about you and limit the information it collects | Technology

“The one who knows you best in this world is neither your mother, nor your best friend, nor your psychologist, it is the TikTok algorithm, which is directly witchcraft,” says a user on the social network X. The Chinese platform knows data personal aspects of the user, but also what interests them and what they don’t, who their friends are and even the pace at which they type. In recent years, it has become a source of suspicion in the West for “data protection and data collection for third parties.” So much so that it has been banned among some personnel in the European Union and the United States. EL PAÍS investigates what data TikTok collects, how to ask for it and what can be done to avoid it.

Any user can ask TikTok for a copy of their data. To do this, you have to enter the application, press “Profile” at the bottom and, in the menu button—made up of three horizontal stripes—choose the “Settings and privacy” option. Then you have to click on “Account” and “Download your data”. When doing so, it is possible to choose whether you want “all data” or only certain “custom data”. In the tests carried out by this newspaper, on some occasions the file has been ready to download immediately and, on other occasions, it has taken up to two days to be ready.

TikTok screenshot where users can download a copy of their dataIsabel Rubio

The downloaded file has multiple folders. The best way to find out what TikTok knows about yourself is diving in each one of them. In a so-called “profile”, the company collects all the data that the user provided when opening an account: from the date of birth to the username, email address, phone number, password, biography or profile picture.

TikTok also keeps a record of all the times a user logs into their account from any device: it knows the date, IP address, device type, its operating system, the network (3G, 4G or 5G) and the operator ( the company that provides the network). To collect information about the city or country where the user is located, the social network uses technical information such as the SIM card and IP address. If given permission, it also collects information about the approximate location of the device and contacts in the phone book. And not only that: the platform automatically collects keystroke patterns or rhythms, as indicated in its privacy policy.

Why does TikTok know its users so well?

Millions of people spend hours on TikTok, which collects information about each of their actions on the social network. In a folder called “browsing history”, save the link to all the videos the user has watched and when they watched them. In addition, it collects the user’s favorite effects, sounds, hashtags and TikToks. You know if you prefer the filter that recreates freckles on the face, the one that creates a giant head, or the one that allows you to replace the background of the video with any image. And if you like songs like If you are notby Íñigo Quintero, or good to beby Marc Ambor.

It also collects every video you’ve shared—within the app or through another service like WhatsApp—and every search made on the platform. What if “gifts for concert lovers”, “Ruslana OT” or “Madrid weekend plans”. The platform manages a large part of each person’s interests, in what language they prefer to see TikToks and who they interact with. If at any time the user has followed or unfollowed stars like Charli D’Amelio, Lola Lolita or Nuria Adraos.

Beyond the content you see or who you interact with, the social network also identifies and compiles characteristics about each video published on the platform: from labels even what is said in it and whether it includes objects, landscapes, faces or other parts of the body. “We do this, for example, to moderate content and to add special effects (such as video filters and avatars) and subtitles,” the company states in its privacy policy.

If the user purchases on the platform, TikTok also collects information about the transaction. For example, payment card, billing information, delivery, contact information or purchased items. In addition, the company knows the user’s settings on the platform inside out: whether their account is private, whether they allow others to send them messages, watch the videos they like or download their TikToks, comment on them or make duets with them.

From all the information collected, TikTok deduces the age range and gender of each user, as explained in its privacy policy. The company says it saves all this data to show the user videos that interest them, ensure the safety and well-being of the community or improve its advertising services, “including the publication of ads (among others, personalized ads, whenever permitted) and to measure and understand the effectiveness of advertisements and other content.”

How to limit the data TikTok collects

Is TikTok spying on us? According to several experts consulted by EL PAÍS, it collects as much data as the rest of social networks. A report from the Internet 2.0 organization concludes that TikTok does not prioritize privacy. “The permissions and device information collection are too intrusive and not necessary for the app to work,” he says.

There are some tricks to prevent, as much as possible, TikTok from collecting information about yourself. To only view content on the social network and share as little data as possible, cybersecurity company ESET recommends using the official TikTok website in a web browser. Still, remember that the company may collect certain information using browser cookies and other trackers.

If you want to have an account on TikTok to take advantage of all its features, it is possible to partially restrict data sharing in the settings. “When registering for the first time, a good option is to use a phone or email address that is not used anywhere else, rather than an account associated with, for example, another social network,” they say from ESET. This is due to third-party platforms, merchants and advertising providing information to TikTok about their users, as the social network states in its privacy policy.

The cybersecurity company advises against allowing TikTok to sync phone contacts or Facebook friends and limiting ad personalization. To do this, within the TikTok settings, you must click on “ads” and deactivate the “custom ads” tab. In this section, it is also possible to delete data outside of TikTok that advertisers have shared about a user. If you want to deactivate or activate the synchronization of Facebook contacts and friends, you can do so in the “privacy” tab within the settings in TikTok. Outside of the social network, in the phone settings, it is possible to manage various permissions given to the application. For example, if you can access the location, contacts, photos, microphone or camera.

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