TikTok logoSource: TikTok

What you need to know

  • An iOS 14 feature highlighted just how bad the issue of clipboard snooping is.
  • In particular, TikTok was found to be looking at user clipboards with alarming frequency.
  • TikTok says it has removed the problem, which it says was caused by an antispam feature.

TikTok says it has removed an antispam feature that was causing the app to snoop on user's clipboards with alarming frequency.

In a statement to iMore, a spokesperson from TikTok said:

"Following the beta release of iOS14 on June 22, users saw notifications while using a number of popular apps. For TikTok, this was triggered by a feature designed to identify repetitive, spammy behavior. We have already submitted an updated version of the app to the App Store removing the anti-spam feature to eliminate any potential confusion.

"TikTok is committed to protecting users' privacy and being transparent about how our app works. We look forward to welcoming outside experts to our Transparency Center later this year."

As the report notes, TikTok had originally promised to fix the issue back in March.

As we reported yesterday, a new feature in iOS 14 notifies users every time an app reads the content of a user's clipboard, which is where the content you've copied is stored before you paste it. It emerged that TikTok was an egregious offender, checking the clipboard every 1-3 keystrokes.

Speaking to iMore, developer duo Mysk who discovered the problem and to whom Apple has attributed the new iOS 14 feature, said they were "thrilled" to have made a difference.

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Whilst Mysk says that TikTok's response makes some sense, there are more effective and less intrusive ways to effectively check for spam, and that any competent developer would not read the clipboard every two or three keystrokes to check if the text entered matched the clipboard. Indeed, an old API already exists which developers can use to specifically check whether a user has pasted text into a text field.

They also noted that Apple's new notification feature is perhaps so frightening (maybe even deliberately) that users will be genuinely deterred from using apps that exhibit the feature, forcing developers to change their apps. It is also very likely that Apple will refine the alert going forward. Currently, the notification isn't localized, only showing up in English and there's no way to retrieve a notification if you miss it. Furthermore, the message is clipped, but there's no way to view the full content of the message, nor any way to disable it.

There are plenty of other apps guilty of clipboard snooping including AccuWeather, Call of Duty Mobile, and Google News, and Mysk says that the public reaction to the feature has been overwhelming, so expect Apple to invest more in the feature and expect to see more developers follow TikTok in the coming weeks.

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