TIKTOK | What is it… and Why is it?

By Dan Hains 

Dan Hains

TikTok, an emerging app, is rapidly gaining popularity.  In social media TikTok recently unseated Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat as the top free app in Apple’s App Store. As of Nov. 6 2018[1], TikTok ranked first among photo and video apps in daily iPhone downloads in the US.

What is it?

TikTok is a short-form video social network, allowing users to create their videos using built-in effects and trending music tracks.

TikTok is one of the most popular — and most interesting — social media apps on the planet, but it has yet to enter the lexicon of most average Australians in the way its forerunners have.

The gist is this: Users film videos of themselves lip-syncing or acting out comedy sketches, up to 15 seconds long, and can choose from a database of songs, effects or sound bites.  Collaboration is a major incentive — you can do a “duet” with someone by replying to their video, which creates a split-screen diptych, thus feeding into an endless chain of reactions. Users can also upload their own sounds, so it’s possible to lip-sync to someone else’s original video.

Typically of social media apps, TikTok users can also receive comments, likes, direct messages and follows from other users on the platform.

All of this helps to explain why TikTok has grown so exponentially.  In September 2018 it surpassed Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat in monthly installs in the App Store, and was downloaded more than a billion times.  TikTok is smaller than the Facebook behemoth (2.27 billion global monthly active users, including Instagram and WhatsApp, which it owns), but it’s far ahead of Twitter (336 million) and Snapchat (186 million).

The darker side of TikTok: creepy adults, illegal data collection and sexist teens

User profiles, which are all public by default, reveal that TikTok has had huge uptake among teenagers and younger children.

Although a user can switch their profile to private, currently this does not limit the ability of other users to send direct messages to you.  All videos from TikTok are allowed be downloaded on the device and shared across other messaging platforms as well.  A simple TikTok watermark is placed on the saved videos.

Though it only allows users who are 13 or older, like most apps, it’s not exactly a foolproof restriction and also like most apps aimed at young people, TikTok is home to its fair share of creeps.

The concerns

As with any new form of social media, concerns about the app and its content are growing nearly as rapidly as its popularity.  The app developers claim the app is “raw, real, and without boundaries”, which some interpret as “dangerous”, especially in the hands of teenagers and children.

In February 27, 2019, TikTok was handed the largest civil penalty ($5.7 million) ever obtained by the US Federal Trade Commission for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Being aware that a significant percentage of users were younger than 13, TikTok failed to notify parents about the app’s collection and use of personal information from users under 13, as well as obtain parental consent before such collection and use, and delete personal information at the request of parents.

In response, TikTok launched a separate app for US users where “users cannot share their videos on TikTok, comment on others’ videos, message with users, or maintain a profile or followers ”.

There are several cases in the news as well, including an instance where a man targeted several children as young as 9 on TikTok, appearing later on their doorstep unannounced posing as a delivery driver.  Cases of adults soliciting young people for naked photos as well as allegations of online bullying, child enticement and abuse on TikTok have not been uncommon, but often prove difficult to investigate.

Stay in front with Forensic Analysis

Parents and carers who have serious concerns have engaged Vincents to perform forensic analysis on personal devices, including iPads and iPhones, from which we can extract detailed account information, including the username, real name, profile picture, description of the main account and any additional ones previously logged in from the device.

Chat information can be extracted from Apple devices as well, including deleted messages. For investigators this is valuable information.  In an exhaustive investigation, analysis is able to extract the cookies and cache, including images, videos, links and logs and recreate the entire TikTok experience of the suspect.

[1] Industry research firm “App Annie”

Want to know more?

If you have any further questions about TikTok please contact Dan Hains, our Forensic Services Director, for assistance.

An Important Message

While every effort has been made to provide valuable, useful information in this publication, this firm and any related suppliers or associated companies accept no responsibility or any form of liability from reliance upon or use of its contents.  Any suggestions should be considered carefully within your own particular circumstances, as they are intended as general information only.



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