There’s been a lot of confusion around TikTok, the wildly popular app that lets users post short videos of themselves. The app has come under fire for its aggressive approach to data collection and worrying security vulnerabilities. But whether the app is more dangerous than other social media apps or par for the course for its peers is unclear, with different security experts presenting different takes. The questions that come up in these conversations – like what data the app is harvesting, how that data is being used and by whom – are all really components of the larger question that we need to be asking when we use new applications. And that question is: can we trust the app developer?

On its own, the amount of data TikTok collects is not particularly remarkable in today’s context – and individually, one user’s data may not be particularly useful for anyone. But the data of many individuals who use a certain kind of device, or live in a certain location, or match a certain demographic can yield the kind of insights that – in the wrong hands – can be used for malicious purposes. In TikTok’s case, some experts have been concerned that the data collected could be handed over to bad actors. In other words, the question is whether users can trust TikTok’s developer to protect their data.

When it comes to using any app, you need to make sure you can trust the app’s developer. That means understanding what drives the developer. In many cases developers don’t have your best interests at heart. This is especially the case when it comes to free applications, The saying “if you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold,” stands true here. Most companies offering free applications stand to gain monetarily (or in other ways) from harvesting and sharing your data.

All kinds of free applications – from photography apps to educational games for your children and even free VPNS – collect information like the device you use, your location, the content that you interact with, which they may sell to third-parties. The information could be used to target ads to users, tailor information and even shape their behavior. And – in addition to the question of what information app developers are collecting and who they’re sharing it with – there is the question of how they’re storing your data. Even if the app isn’t actively sharing your data with third-parties, are they taking steps to protect it from being breached? Do they have a vested interest in keeping your data safe? Or is that not a concern for them?

In some cases, developers may give you clear cut reasons for why you can trust them when you use their apps. Take the example of business applications that you pay for. You know exactly how the company is benefitting from you using the tool because you are a customer. You form a business relationship with the company and you can negotiate the terms of service. The developer has a vested interest in meeting your demands so that they retain you as a customer and cultivate a strong reputation. They may also have other ways to demonstrate to you that they do what they say they do and can meet your needs. In these situations, licensing an app from a reputable developer is a safe bet.

At Vaporstream, we recognize it can be confusing to know who to trust when it comes to using apps. That’s why we make sure to get verified by a third-party that guarantees we meet our claims about privacy and security. Find out why NowSecure considers us a leader in privacy here.