Why would a company known for Cloud and Data Storage want TikTok? Where is the value to either company in this acquisition? Well, according to a security researcher who posted on Reddit long before this became a hot button issue between the USA and China, here’s what TikTok is doing in the background.
I am going to quote from his post but these observations are backed up by research done at Penetrum which you can read here and more research done by Zimperium which you can find here. The question that you have to ask is why Oracle would want to purchase such a nightmare? I suspect that since TikTok is effectively a mass data collection platform and Oracle is ultimately a data storage company, Oracle is looking to enter the data broker business.
Well, it looks like its going to be Oracle and WalMart who own TikTok. I can’t speak for anyone else but there are couple of things with this that disturb me quite a bit. One is that TikTok has now been busted for grabbing what ever is on your clipboard. So if you copy and paste anything, TikTok is grabbing that too. I can’t speak to anyone else’s phone usage but I occasionally grab passwords out of my password manager to paste into apps that don’t accept the autofill from my password manager. Secondly, Oracle and WalMart will now have access to all the data that this thing is grabbing including all your contacts, what other apps you have, any data that they can read from those apps, etc. Have a fitbit? Don’t be surprised when you start getting WalMart ads for work out gear and diet supplements. Or if your health insurance rates get adjusted if you aren’t moving enough.
TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network. If there is an API to get information on you, your contacts, or your device… well, they’re using it.
- Phone hardware (cpu type, number of course, hardware ids, screen dimensions, dpi, memory usage, disk space, etc)
- Other apps you have installed (I’ve even seen some I’ve deleted show up in their analytics payload – maybe using as cached value?)
- Everything network-related (ip, local ip, router mac, your mac, wifi access point name)
- Whether or not you’re rooted/jailbroken
- Some variants of the app had GPS pinging enabled at the time, roughly once every 30 seconds – this is enabled by default if you ever location-tag a post IIRC
- They set up a local proxy server on your device for “transcoding media”, but that can be abused very easily as it has zero authentication
The scariest part of all of this is that much of the logging they’re doing is remotely configurable, and unless you reverse every single one of their native libraries (have fun reading all of that assembly, assuming you can get past their customized fork of OLLVM!!!) and manually inspect every single obfuscated function. They have several different protections in place to prevent you from reversing or debugging the app as well. App behavior changes slightly if they know you’re trying to figure out what they’re doing. There’s also a few snippets of code on the Android version that allows for the downloading of a remote zip file, unzipping it, and executing said binary. There is zero reason a mobile app would need this functionality legitimately.
On top of all of the above, they weren’t even using HTTPS for the longest time. They leaked users’ email addresses in their HTTP REST API, as well as their secondary emails used for password resets. Don’t forget about users’ real names and birthdays, too. It was allllll publicly viewable a few months ago if you MITM’d the application.
They provide users with a taste of “virality” to entice them to stay on the platform. Your first TikTok post will likely garner quite a bit of likes, regardless of how good it is.. assuming you get past the initial moderation queue if thats still a thing. Most users end up chasing the dragon. Oh, there’s also a ton of creepy old men who have direct access to children on the app, and I’ve personally seen (and reported) some really suspect stuff. 40-50 year old men getting 8-10 year old girls to do “duets” with them with sexually suggestive songs. Those videos are posted publicly. TikTok has direct messaging functionality.
Here’s the thing though.. they don’t want you to know how much information they’re collecting on you, and the security implications of all of that data in one place, en masse, are fucking huge. They encrypt all of the analytics requests with an algorithm that changes with every update (at the very least the keys change) just so you can’t see what they’re doing. They also made it so you cannot use the app at all if you block communication to their analytics host off at the DNS-level.
For what it’s worth I’ve reversed the Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter apps. They don’t collect anywhere near the same amount of data that TikTok does, and they sure as hell aren’t outright trying to hide exactly whats being sent like TikTok is. It’s like comparing a cup of water to the ocean – they just don’t compare.