TikTok tracks your data the most out of social media apps

William S. | February 02, 2022

Trackers allow ad services to follow users around the web to learn about their browsing habits. While first-party trackers are stored by the website or app you are visiting directly, third-party trackers can invade your privacy and serve targeted ads based on your preferences.

According to the recent findings by the Atlas VPN team, YouTube and TikTok have the most trackers among social media apps. In addition, applications in the magazine, news, and sports categories tend to have the most first and third-party trackers.

The data is based on URL Genius research across 200 iOS apps using the Record App Activity feature that lets to see which apps communicate to various networks. Each app was downloaded and opened only once without registering for the service to understand the starting set of connections.

Before analyzing social media apps, let's understand why third-party trackers are bad. Third-party trackers are placed by a website you haven’t even visited. These third parties can embed trackers on websites all over the internet, allowing them to collect massive amounts of data on you and share it with whomever they choose.

The YouTube application has 14 trackers in total, 10 first-party and 4 third-party contacts. On the other hand, TikTok app trackers are more concerning as 13 out of 14 are third-party network contacts. As such trackers lead to third-party domains, it is unclear what data is being shared. Also, governments had gone as far as stating TikTok to be a potential security threat.

Twitter and Telegram each have 9 trackers in their iOS applications. However, all 9 contacts in Telegram lead to third-party domains, while the Twitter app tracks users with 6 third-party and 3 first-party contacts.

Facebook and Snapchat apps each have just 1 third-party tracker. At the same time, the Messenger and WhatsApp applications have only 1 first-party contact. On average, social media apps have 6 trackers, of which 4 are third-party, and 2 are first-party contacts. Not logging into the app’s services contributed to fewer trackers on social media applications.

In 2021, we also reported TikTok as the most frequently forged application.

Magazine and news apps filled with trackers

Researched 200 iOS apps averaged 15 trackers, of which 12 lead to third-party contacts. Even with minimal app use, users are faced with plenty of third-party trackers that collect personal data without consumer permission.

Magazine applications averaged 28 trackers, of which 26 belong to third-party network contacts. The Wall Street Journal app made 48 total trackers, the most of any magazine app. HBR Global app tracks user activity with 47 third-party contacts. Cosmopolitan and The New York Times apps each have 46 and 45 total trackers, respectively.

News apps averaged 23 trackers, of which 21 lead to third-party network connections. CNN application tracks their readers with 34 total trackers. Washington Post and NBC News apps are not far behind, with 31 and 26 contacts each.

Sports applications follow next as they averaged 22 trackers, of which 18 collect information for third-party contacts. ESPN app has 35 third-party trackers and 42 total. American football team’s Green Bay Packers app ranks second with 29 total connections, while NHL and NBA applications have 25 and 22 trackers, respectively.

Music apps averaged 21 trackers, of which 17 belong to third-party network connections. iHeart: Radio application made 56 contacts, with 51 being to third-party networks, which is the most among all apps analyzed in the research.

Internet users are starting to care more and more about their privacy, which challenges app developers to engage customers using first-party data strategies and tools. Fun fact: in 2020, cybersecurity market generated two times bigger revenue than TikTok.

Currently, customers cannot see what data is being shared with third-party trackers or how their data will be used, creating a lack of transparency between the brand and the consumer.

Atlas VPN Shield gives you an extra layer of privacy by keeping trackers and advertisers off your back.

William S.

William S.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. Focused on revealing the latest cybersecurity trends around the world.



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