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Law Enforcement Agencies Can Take Advantage Of Your Deleted Content On TikTok

Just when you thought TikTok was safe and transparent comes some shocking information about social media apps that fall into the less transparent category.

A new report has gone on to show how law enforcement agencies can take advantage of information that users may assume that they’ve deleted but the reality of the matter is a little different from just that.

As a general rule, most apps are not too clear regarding the exact duration of time that they use to keep users’ information before cleaning up their dispensaries. Hence, that means apps like TikTok that aren’t very transparent could fall prey to the FBI using data without anybody noticing.

During the early part of this year, we heard the FBI confirm that they did make use of data that was readily available in cell towers. This was used to assist them in linking a total of 7 robbery attempts in at least 5 different areas of the US.

The suspect’s phone number and his associates were taken and that is what led to their arrest in the end.

We’re getting this news from Forbes who managed to recently get their hands on an arrest warrant. This was related to the cops digging down deep into databases and retrieving phone numbers and names while crosschecking to make sure they were linked. And it turned out that yes, they were.

These details were used by the agencies to further get a hold of emails from Google, TikTok, and then Instagram accounts that belonged to the suspect in question. They found the suspect’s image on TikTok and other details that they were in search of with ease.

The suspect’s background vehicle and the tattoos were in line with their CCTV footage received from private banks and that meant they were on target. After seeing it as a reliable source, TikTok’s deleted accounts were further approached to find any other clues from his deleted information.

The search warrant really brought up things out in the open and that was related to great confusion on how long the leading social media app retains deleted information and what cops can gain access to after a user has opted to delete it.

We’re not quite sure why TikTok fails to be transparent to its account holders about these things because other leading tech giants are delineating everything in their policy and that’s how it should be.

ByteDance which is TikTok’s parent company is not very specific about all of this. But Google says that it keeps the data for a span of two months after it was last deleted. On rare occasions, the search engine giant says it could go up to 6 months but not greater.

Facebook is a little complex in this regard. It feels the need to keep data based on its original context and nature, keeping in mind any legal requirements that may be involved. But in general, it believes that 90 days is the time span after which things are deleted automatically.

The FBI says that in the case that we mentioned above, they were easily able to retrieve the suspect’s messages, images, address, and email, despite it being deleted. And that is why agents claim TikTok is storing data that is private or has been deleted, removed, or even locked by the user.

Forbes thought it would be a good idea to reach out to TikTok directly and figure out what it really does in terms of storing user data and for how long. The company responded by citing a public document that states how data is located in servers across Singapore and the US but it never mentioned what it does with the information.

The app’s policy says that they store the users' data for as long as it may be necessary and for ‘other purposes’ that many are still trying to figure out.

It’s a mystery that is concerning, especially since the stats pertaining to Government requests for data from TikTok increased from 2000 to 3500 recently. Moreover, the company acknowledged in its recent report on privacy that law enforcement agencies were keener now more than ever to extract user information from the firm.


Read next: How Five Countries Have Been Spying on You for Decades

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