If the world’s media is all against you, and Governments are seeking to ban your app the best thing you can do is roll with it and seek to counter whatever mis-information is out there with some facts.  Enter Professor Nigel Phair from Monash University, a Cyber Security expert who has been commissioned by TikTok to look into data leakage and privacy concerns around digital platforms.

So yes, TikTok paid for the report, but a University Professors opinions cannot be bought, and nor can the cold hard facts about the apps we all use and the permissions they seek.

Let’s kick it off with the scale of the problem here – Social Media.  According to sources cited in the report, 59% of the world’s population use social media.  There’s been 227 million new users in the last 12 months alone.

Each month, on average, users spend 29.5 hour on TikTok, almost 18 hours on Facebook, eight and a half hours on Instagram.

In Australia, reports indicated TikTok is used by 37% of all Adults – around 7.38 million people. This is a huge deal, and you can of course understand why any concerns about our own private data should be explored.

So there’s two ways to look at this.  Firstly, the data your social media apps collect.  Secondly, the sharing of data across international borders by all these companies.

What data can your social media apps collect?

Professor Phair looked at forty data points or attributes across four major apps, Google, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter.  This information came from a detailed analysis of the Privacy Policies of the four companies,

Google was by far the most in depth, requesting 39 out of 40 attributes, with Meta’s Facebook seeking 33.

TikTok came third requesting 31, while Twitter was just below on 29.

Here’s a detailed look at just what we’re talking about here.

Of note, TikTok and location, which I’ve stated before here is a broad based location not GPS based – with Facebook and Instagram requesting GPS location, while TikTok relies on your network connection to estimate that.

When it comes to those specific APP permissions, the outright win goes to Facebook, requesting over 60 permissions, almost 20 of them deemed “dangerous” from a privacy perspective.

Instagram followed, along with Snapchat, while TikTok and YouTube collected the least dangerous, but TikTok did request more overall permissions than Instagram.

Does my Social Media App share data with China?

Forget Social Media!  Professor Phair’s report looked at Social Media, Banks and Telcos, and you might be shocked to know the data privacy policies of those big banks and telcos allow for the sharing of information across international borders, and it happens already.

When talking specifically about China – which is seemingly the real concern of our Governments, the privacy policies of significant banks, telcos and social media companies “all state that they may share Australians’ personal data with overseas-based entities, including in China. Given the significant market share of these organisations, which include some of Australia’s largest banks and telecommunications providers, it would be safe to assume that the vast majority of Australians have had their personally identifiable information shared with overseas-based entities in a range of foreign jurisdictions, including China, irrespective of their social media usage.”

Um, why are we not talking about this?

If China is such a problem, why aren’t we locking down more of our data across a range of industries not just apps.

What this report highlights is that we need a conversation as a nation about app permissions, privacy and controlling your own data – don’t leave it in the hands of companies to choose what they do with you.  You control it. 

Sadly, it seems far more interesting and click-baity to just attack one app, than have an adult conversation about the real big picture.