TikTok can't track me if I turn location services off, right? Your questions answered

Also: Is the CBC still using TikTok?

Saturday - 04/03/2023 02:11 Author: Editors Desk Source: CBC News:
Canada joined the U.S. and the European Union in prohibiting the social media app on government-issued devices. Other Canadian jurisdictions and institutions are considering similar bans. (Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press)
Canada joined the U.S. and the European Union in prohibiting the social media app on government-issued devices. Other Canadian jurisdictions and institutions are considering similar bans. (Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press)

This story idea came from audience members, like you, who got in touch with us. Email us your questions. We are listening: ask@cbc.ca.

Canada's decision to ban TikTok from government devices has led to calls from the Official Opposition to expand the bancriticism from China and TikTok — and a lot of questions from Canadians.

We're here to bring you what you want to know about the ban and how it came to be.

Why is TikTok being singled out and not other social media apps?

TikTok would hardly be the first app to cause users to second-guess how their data is being collected and used, but right now it's the only app being banned from government-issued devices. 

So, what makes TikTok different?

The app's China-based parent company ByteDance may be operating under a different set of rules than the other third-party apps harvesting your data; it isn't clear whether or not ByteDance's practices violate Canadian privacy legislation or if the company would have to follow an order from the Chinese government to share the extensive data it's collecting from users.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is looking into TikTok's collection, use and disclosure of personal information in a joint federal and provincial investigation.

TikTok's terms of service also asks users to consent to tracking the pattern of your keystrokes, how much battery you have, the ability to read the objects and scenery in your videos and the location of faces or body features in videos and much more, including location data.

If I turn location services off on my phone, then TikTok can't track me, right?


Once you download the TikTok app and accept the terms and conditions, TikTok can use your phone's SIM card and IP address to approximate where you are, even when you have opted not to share your location with the app.

TikTok may also be tracking where you are digitally when you're not using the app. According to Katherine Isaac, an executive at Carbide, a cybersecurity firm, TikTok "has access to some of the other apps on your device completely unrelated to Tiktok where they can pull out some information from what you have installed and your activity."

TikTok can tell what you're doing on your devices and you don't have to be using the app. "If you're using a government-owned device … information is exposed," she said.

Why would government phones even have TikTok on them in the first place?

This is the most common question we've received about the TikTok ban and it's a hard one to answer definitively.

Isaac suspects it may have to do with increasingly blurred lines between work and personal devices. 

"I think we got into this habit somehow over the last several years. That people started to use personal devices for company work and likewise work devices for personal use," she said.

There are also legitimate reasons for using TikTok for work. The highest profile example would be federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who used it to campaign and communicate with constituents and amassed nearly 879,000 followers before deactivating his account.

The Canadian government even used TikTok for its own advertising, spending $1.7 million to run ads on the platform between 2021 and 2022, according to the most recent data.

Is the CBC still using TikTok?

Yes, CBC is still using TikTok as of this story's publication.

CBC is a Crown corporation, which means it operates at arm's length from the government and is not affected by this decision.

Agencies and Crown corporations that don't fall under the federal government's decision were informed of the move on Monday and "strongly advised" to consider following suit, the Treasury Board of Canada secretariat said in a statement to CBC News.

Several Crown corporations have voluntarily decided to leave TikTok — including the Bank of Canada, Trans Mountain Corporation, the National Capital Commission and the Standards Council of Canada.

The CBC continues to monitor the developments around TikTok.

With files from Catherine Achu Koshy


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