So much has happened in 2020 that it is easy to forget one of the big tech stories. Earlier this year, governments around the world, including the US, threatened to ban TikTok. Used in over 150 countries, by more than 800 million users every month, the service has been accused of sharing user data with the Chinese government.
There’s very little evidence of this actually occurring, rather the concern was centred around the issue of being a Chinese firm, the Chinese Government could ask ByteDance, the owners of TikTok, to share user data and they would have little recourse.
In countries like India, a ban did indeed go through. In the US, however, TikTok is still available and talks of giving control over to a US company have not yet come to anything. Most of us have simply forgotten the problem ever existed considering everything else that has been happening.
To shed more light on the issue, let’s take a look at whether the problem is really that bad, and what you can do in your personal capacity to keep your data safe.
Are foreign governments tracking our data?
While there may be fears over TikTok’s potential involvement with foreign governments tracking our data, is this really happening?
We have seen over the past few years that foreign governments have used companies like Cambridge Analytica to analyse our data and use it to manipulate us. The biggest example of this came in accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
However, the most comprehensive data breach was revealed back in 2013 when Edward Snowden revealed to the world that the National Security Agency (NSA) was tracking phone calls and internet use of millions of innocent Americans.
In other words, we know there is a risk of Governments tracking our data, so while TikTok may have been the focus in 2020, its only one small symptom of a much larger problem.
So, how do we protect against government surveillance?
Always use a VPN
The idea of a TikTok ban was always misguided. We simply cannot protect ourselves by giving up our freedom of information. Rather, we can take steps to use the internet responsibly.
For this reason, it is more important than ever to use a virtual private network (VPN) all the time, on every single device. No matter what you are doing online, your data is at risk.
A VPN encrypts your data and hides your IP address, making it almost impossible for governments or hackers to track your activity.
VPNs have been evolving for years now and has become a really competitive space. You can find the best VPNs for 2020 at VPNPros.com.
Once you have a VPN, you still need to take other steps to protect yourself.
Responsible internet use
It is easy to live in blissful ignorance of potential cyber threats, until you are compromised and you’ll regret not taking action now.
We tend to be far too relaxed when it comes to our login information. We choose passwords that can be easily cracked and use them across multiple accounts, with convenience often winning over security.
This is one habit that you can stop immediately. Enable MFA on any account that supports it. Use a password manager or leverage modern browsers browser’s that automatically-generate strong passwords and autofill them. This eliminates the temptation to use short, easily rememberable, but easily guessable passwords.
Furthermore, don’t use a social media account to log into every single site. While it’s convenient, you’re much better to spend the time to create a unique set of credentials for each service. If your credentials were compromised, one of the first things an attacker will do is attempt to log in to other services and if you’ve shared accounts that makes it very easy for them.
Finally, if you hover over a link (or press and hold on mobile) and think its dodgy, don’t take any chances. We all have a tendency to make mistakes when we should know better. Try to remember what is at stake, and you may be able to avoid giving away your most sensitive data.