Shady TikTok Caught Snooping iPhone Clipboard Data Via iOS 14 Privacy Feature
However, users have raised privacy concerns about the app ever since it launched in the United States, with many questioning whether the Chinese government was somehow using the app to spy on Americans. Today, TikTok isn’t doing itself any favors in assuaging those fears after it was found that the app has been accessing the iOS system clipboard with reckless abandon. In fact, the app has likely been doing this ever since it was released for iOS, but it wasn’t until the beta of iOS 14 launched that customers found out what was going on.
iOS 14 includes a new feature that provides a pop-up notification whenever a third-party app attempts to access the system clipboard to paste text. You can see the features in action in the tweet below:
Looks like @apple fixed the clipboard privacy issue we highlighted earlier this year. Apple said it wasn’t an issue, but surprisingly they fixed it in #iOS14 the exact way we recommended in our article.— Mysk (@mysk_co) June 22, 2020
A notification is shown every time an app or widget reads the clipboard
In the case of TikTok, some users found that the app was pinging the clipboard every seemingly every few seconds, as witnessed by incessant notifications popping up that ratted-out the app’s activities. According to The Telegraph, TikTok developer ByteDance promised back in March to stop clipboard access within a few weeks… but here we are three months later, and TikTok has been caught with its hands still in the proverbial cookie jar.
Okay so TikTok is grabbing the contents of my clipboard every 1-3 keystrokes. iOS 14 is snitching on it with the new paste notification pic.twitter.com/OSXP43t5SZ— Jeremy Burge (@jeremyburge) June 24, 2020
For its part, TikTok tried to explain its reticence to removing the feature (as it said it would previously), stating, "For TikTok, this was triggered by a feature designed to identify repetitive, spammy behavior. We have already submitted an updated version of the app to the App Store removing the anti-spam feature to eliminate any potential confusion.
"TikTok is committed to protecting users’ privacy and being transparent about how our app works."
It’s interesting that ByteDance is saying that it was using the clipboard to monitor “spammy” behavior, but it didn’t waste any time in removing this so-called protection scheme after it was called out for the privacy trap that it actually is. Interestingly, ByteDance has not offered up any information on how the information that it has been obtaining from the clipboard is being used by the company. And there’s also no word on whether the Android version of the app also includes the “spam prevention” feature and if it too will be removed (if active).