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iOS 14 caught TikTok and other apps spying on your clipboard

Updated Jun 26th, 2020 7:43AM EDT
iOS 14 Beta
Image: Apple Inc.

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  • The iOS 14 beta release already caught TikTok and other apps spying on the contents of the iPhone clipboard.
  • iOS 14 will show a notification each time apps access the items that you copy and paste on the phone.
  • TikTok confirmed that the clipboard feature will be removed, but explained it used it to prevent spammy behavior.

Like previous releases, iOS 14 comes with various privacy and security features meant to better guard users against hackers. The App Store will now tell you what sort of data an app collects from you before you decide to install it and explain the privacy practices. iOS 14 will also let you approximate your location with apps, and share only a certain number of photos when prompted to. An indicator will show up when an app is using your microphone or camera, reminding you that a third-party has request access to those features. But there’s also a convenient feature in iOS 14 that will warn you when apps access data from the clipboard. And it turns out that popular social app TikTok was doing precisely that before iOS 14 caught it. The app now said it will remove the feature in a future update.

The clipboard contains information that you copy and paste between apps or devices, and should be out of reach to most apps. You might be copying sensitive information in there, which others should access. But it turns out that some apps do it on iPhone. iOS 14 will now display a warning on the screen that will tell you when an app pastes information from the clipboard.

“Okay, so TikTok is grabbing the contents of my clipboard every 1-3 keystrokes,” said Jeremy Burge on Twitter, posting the clip above to show TikTok’s behavior in action. “iOS 14 is snitching on it with the new paste notification.”

As expected, TikTok officials explained this huge privacy issue as a feature. Here’s what they said to The Telegraph (via TikTok) about iOS 14 catching the behavior:

“Following the beta release of ‌iOS 14‌ 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.”

It’s excellent that TikTok is committed to protecting users’ privacy after being caught not doing it.

As MacRumors points out, it’s unclear what TikTok did with the data it pasted from clipboards all this time, where it stored it, and whether the same update is coming to the Android version of the app.

TikTok is by no means the only culprit. Other apps have also accessed the clipboard on iPhone and iPad, and the following clip shows several others, including The New York Times, Google News, AccuWeather, Overstock, and others.

If you see such notifications, you can decide to remove the apps that continue to access the clipboard until they’ve fixed the problem. The clipboard issue was discovered earlier this year by Mysk developers.

iOS 14 beta is available for download on iPhone if you have access to developer accounts. A public beta will be open to everyone looking to test iOS 14 in July.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.