To: Graduate students at the University of Waterloo

From: University Communications

Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Subject: Privacy risks with smartphone apps

Privacy risks with smartphone apps


In recent weeks media and government attention has focussed on the social media app TikTok, citing fears over privacy and security risks associated with the platform. Some governments and organizations have also moved to ban the app from organization-owned devices. 

Understanding the privacy risks that all smartphone apps pose to you is important. All apps outline the data they collect from you in their terms of service. Many websites, such as TOSDR, help consumers by reviewing terms of service and assigning ratings or grades.

In the case of TikTok, the app collects large amounts of data from its users including:  

  • personal identifiers such as email address, phone number, and date of birth;
  • device information including keystroke patterns, browser and search history, and contacts;
  • location information based on SIM card and/or IP address even if you disable location settings;
  • all of your activity on the app, including for how long you watch a video;
  • any text, images, and video on your device’s clipboard, if you copy and paste something into the app;
  • biometric information (face and voice print); and
  • information from other social media accounts you identify for the app.

All of this data, which users consent to by downloading the app, can be used by providers and third parties putting you at risk of identity theft, privacy breach and could ultimately compromise personal security.

You can control privacy settings in apps, or delete the apps 

Knowing the risks of each app will help you make informed decisions about whether to download the app in the first place, how to change the privacy settings, or whether to remove the app from your device. 

At a minimum, if you are working with confidential or sensitive information on your device, you should not use social media apps on the same device.  

We strongly encourage all users of University-funded mobile devices to review whether the apps you have downloaded, including TikTok, are appropriate for you to have on your work-provided or research-funded device. We also encourage you to review and change the privacy and security settings of all apps.  

Our team in IST has shared more information to help you stay informed about how to protect your privacy on social media platforms. 


Jacinda Reitsma 

Vice-President, Administration and Finance

Jacinda Reitsma
Vice-President, Administration and Finance

2023 communications to graduate students