By Tefo Mohapi
A software programmer has reverse engineered and leaked TikTok's source code. According to the programmer, based on what the source code contained, TikTok is effectively "legitimate spyware."
The programmer went on to leak the source code on GitHub but it was swiftly taken down using a DMCA takedown request issued by TikTok's legal counsel.
"I am legal counsel to TikTok Inc., owner of the copyright that is the subject matter of this notification, and am authorized to act on the owner's behalf. The original copyrighted work is the source code for the TikTok Android app. Github user augustgl appears to claim to have reverse-engineered the app. He posted the code to the following GitHub repository: https://github.com/augustgl/tiktok_source. The entire repository at https://github.com/augustgl/tiktok_source should be taken down," reads part of the DMCA takedown request submitted by TikTok's legal counsel to GitHub on 6 November 2020.
TikTok labeled as potential spyware
For some time, with Donald Trump as president, the USA has been seeking to have TikTok banned in the country. As part of its main reasoning has been that TikTok is being used by agencies linked to China's government as spyware. In 2019, the Peterson Institute for International Economics conducted an investigation which would go on to describe TikTok as a platform that posed a national security threat to the country because of the app's popularity among Americans and how it collected location, image, and biometric data of users.
Over and above the data that TikTok collects, the main contention has been that the app sends all this data to the company's head office in China. The worry is that, legally, ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, cannot refuse requests from Chinese authorities when they request them to share the app's user and other data.
The concerns around TikTok heated up during 2020 when the USA government would go on to propose a deal where TikTok's USA operations and data should be owned by an American corporation.
The programmer, who is known only by their GitHub username (augustgl) so far, highlighted some concerning things that the TikTok app does.
According to the programmer's analysis of the source code, TikTok collects the following data (among others):
- Biometric data (facial recognition)
- Constant location tracking.
- Screenshots are saved on the user's smartphone.
- Details about the Wi-Fi networks the user's smartphone connects to.
- Phone call details.