"How can I safely access TikTok content without downloading the app on my phone?" is a question we frequently get. Here are a few tips on how to access content on the video-sharing platform for sensitive investigations (i.e., law enforcement, open source intelligence, anti-fraud).
TikTok is a social media service used to create and share quick videos that are 3-15 seconds short (or 3-60 seconds on a loop) from your smartphone. Over the past several years, it has also turned into a treasure trove for investigators, including at environmental agencies.
TikTok is owned by the Beijing, China-based company ByteDance, which is led by members of the Chinese Communist Party. Under a 2017 Chinese cybersecurity law, the company is required to comply and cooperate with Chinese intelligence services -- including turning over user data if asked.
TikTok was the most downloaded app in 2019 worldwide and has been installed over 1.5 billion times to date. The social video app is plagued with security and privacy issues. It’s been used as a hunting ground by pedophiles, for inciting violence against women, and to damage major American brands.
As with other social media applications, OSINT researchers and investigators increasingly must reckon with what’s posted on TikTok, but avoid the risks of installing the app on their personal or work device.
In a blog post for professional investigators a while ago, titled “Quick Guide to Anonymous Social Media Investigations”, we described fundamentals of safely and securely finding information using social media in general. As a follow-up, let’s now look at TikTok in particular.
What’s the most secure and efficient way for fraud investigators, corporate security professionals, law enforcement, and investigative journalists to use TikTok for investigations, for example, to track down suspects or emerging threats to public safety?
Get In, Get Out: No Account, No-Risk TikTok Research
How can researchers get what they need from the Chinese-controlled video platform, without disclosing their identity or exposing themselves to the app’s security risks?
For starters, instead of accessing the service from your smartphone or computer with a regular browser, web isolation with Silo will keep any web code - from the TikTok platform or wherever the investigation may take you - off your local device.
Silo for Safe Access, Authentic8’s remote browser, prevents TikTok or third parties from identifying your IP address and ensures anonymity, because only the IP number of the disposable browser instance on the Authentic8 server gets presented to the destination.
Professional investigators and intelligence analysts prefer Silo for Research (Toolbox), Authentic8’s research framework. It enables them to manage or misdirect attribution when investigating on the open, deep or dark web.
Silo for Research ensures compliance and oversight. It facilitates efficient collaboration between analysts during online investigations, for example, when conducting an in-depth analysis of a TikTok profile or video.
Four Top TikTok Tips for OSINT Researchers
Authentic8's Matt Ashburn presented OSINT training detailing four fast ways to access TikTok without having an account or even downloading the app:
- One way of viewing TikTok content is to see what is trending on the platform; a public safety professional, for example, can run a quick check if videos related to a significant event have gone viral. You can understand what's trending by going to the upper left section on TikTok.com, clicking the menu, and clicking on "trending." This will show you the most popular posts at that moment.
- TikTok.com/discover is another approach to find relevant TikTok videos for your investigation. On this page, you will see the top trending hashtags of the moment. This doesn’t reflect the popularity of individual videos. Instead, it indicates the most popular topics across a large number of videos.
- A more specific way of leveraging TikTok for an investigation is looking at a TikTok user profile. The URL should look something like TikTok.com/(person/company name). If you don't know the URL, you can conduct a quick Google search of “TikTok + [the name of the person or organization you are looking for]."
- And let’s not forget hashtags. They offer an instant overview of TikTok videos on a particular topic - if they have been hashtagged in a meaningful way (and not by hashtag spammers). Whatever issue you’re interested in, type in TikTok.com/tag/(topic), and you'll be able to see all videos with that hashtag.
All of these examples are simple ways to find and analyze content on TikTok without having to log in to a TikTok account.
Would you like to know more about how to conduct social media investigations securely and anonymously, on TikTok or any other platform?
Get your custom-tailored personal demo from our OSINT specialists