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B.C. universities caution using TikTok amid privacy concerns

Users of the popular social media platform are encouraged to use a web browser instead, to limit the information collected.
Canadian privacy commissioners are investigating TikTok for privacy concerns.

In the wake of the University of British Columbia advising students to remove TikTok from their devices, the province’s two other large universities say they’re watching federal and provincial developments.

In a post regarding privacy matters on its website, UBC acknowledged TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms at the school.

“However, it has also raised security and privacy concerns due to its data collection practices and sharing data with its parent company ByteDance, which is based in China,” a March 28 notice said.

UBC noted the federal government has issued a ban on the use of TikTok on government-issued devices, with provincial governments following suit.

In February, Canadian privacy commissioners announced an investigation into the short-form video streaming application.

The federal, B.C., Alberta and Quebec commissioners said they would examine whether TikTok’s practices are in compliance with Canadian privacy legislation.

Specifically, the commissioners are looking at whether or not “valid and meaningful consent is being obtained for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information.”

The investigation will also determine if the company is meeting its transparency obligations, particularly when collecting personal information from its users, a joint statement said, noting security of younger users is a key issue.

Now, Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of Victoria (UVic) are also advising caution.

“SFU takes online safety and security very seriously,” the university said in a statement to Glacier Media. “The university’s information technology services and privacy offices closely monitor emerging privacy and security concerns and listen to advice provided by federal and provincial governments.”

While it does not have a specific TikTok policy, SFU said, “We always encourage students, faculty and staff to protect their personal information by being aware of the latest online risks and taking steps to protect their data as much as possible on their devices.”

UVic, meanwhile, said it is monitoring the commissioners’ investigation.

In the interim, UVic was advising the university community to take precautions not only on TikTok but all social media.

Those include:

  • staying informed about social media organizations’ terms of use and privacy and data policies;
  • use a web browser to access content instead of using social media apps to limit information collected from you;
  • adjust your privacy settings and know what data third-party applications are accessing and how they are using it.
  • limit your online “footprint” — avoid oversharing personal information on social media that can be used by cybercriminals to steal your identity or provide tailored phishing messages;
  • remove permissions for unused apps or uninstall them;
  • use anti-virus/malware protection;
  • use strong passphrases and ensure they are unique for each app or service;
  • use multi-factor authentication;
  • routinely review apps, social media accounts, and their respective security and privacy settings; and,
  • do a personal privacy impact assessment.

“These precautions are not only relevant to TikTok; they should be employed when using any social media platform,” UVic said in a statement to Glacier Media.

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