Apple's iOS 14 beta reveals that TikTok and other apps are spying on iPhone users
The clipboard on your Apple iPhone is used to temporarily store data that has been copied from one app and pasted on another app. Only one item from an app can be stored at one time. The problem is that when you copy some data of importance to the clipboard like a bank account number or a social security number, some apps are able to grab this information right off of your clipboard.
Even a boring weather app can be spying on your iOS clipboard
According to Digital Trends, the first public beta of iOS 14 revealed that TikTok is still accessing the clipboard of its iPhone wielding subscribers. TikTok is the extremely popular short-form video app that has had its share of controversy. At times TikTok has been the most popular app in the App Store and the Google Play Store. But the Peterson Institute for International Economics called it a "Huawei-sized problem" in terms of security issues. And last November TikTok parent Beijing ByteDance Technology Co. was being investigated by the U.S. government for failing to have its $1 billion purchase of Musical.ly vetted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The latter is supposed to investigate the purchase of a U.S. firm by a foreign company.
In February, a pair of developers found a problem with the copy paste system in iOS that left sensitive information unprotected. One of the developers who discovered this issue, Tommy Mysk, told Digital Trends that as of WWDC 2020, the problem was fixed thanks to a feature in iOS 14 that shows a banner alert to iPhone users when an app is reading a user's iPhone clipboard. The Telegraph reports that when the beta version of iOS 14 was released earlier this month, users started receiving notifications revealing that apps like AccuWeather, AliExpress, Call of Duty Mobile, Google News, Overstock, Patreon, and yes, TikTok. Jeremy Burge, the "Chief Emoji Officer" at Emojipedia posted on his Twitter account how often TikTok accessed his iPhone clipboard. The video shows that every one-to three taps TikTok was trying to grab the contents of Burge's clipboard. Everytime TikTok attempted this act, Jeremy was warned. Another video posted by Ryan Jones shows how iOS 14 warns users when their clipboard is being spied on.
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
Because of the large number of iOS users and its creation by a Chinese company, TikTok is a major worry for some security experts. In March, TikTok told the Telegraph that it would stop spying on iOS users' clipboards only to continue the practice three months later. TikTok claims that the type of clipboard snooping it was doing in March is different than what it is doing now. That's the same as saying that a criminal who killed someone with a knife isn't a serial killer because he used a gun to kill his second victim. Emojipedia's Burge said that TikTok's current snooping takes place each time a user tapped a punctuation mark or the space bar while typing. That means that TikTok can spy on your clipboard nearly every second, a scary prospect if you copy sensitive materials using the clipboard on your iPhone.
We aren't saying that you should install the first iOS 14 beta just for the new feature that will warn you when your clipboard is being read by one of your apps. There are still too many bugs to make this update a viable one for your daily driver. But as soon as the public version of iOS 14 is dropped, assuming that there are no major issues, you might want to install it right away.
Things that are NOT allowed: