Have you seen the news about TikTok? A new privacy feature in iOS 14 has revealed that the Chinese social media app is constantly reading iPhone Clipboards. But this is not new.
All applications can read the Clipboard of the smartphone whenever they want.
We just found out what applications are already doing
What TikTok does is not new. The only new thing is that the Apple iOS 14 update notifies you now when an app records the contents (paste) from the Clipboard.
Of course, the TikTok claimed that it does not save the data and an update was released to stop reading it. However, as Engadget points out, many other applications do the same thing by constantly reading data from the Clipboard.
(it's a beta, so I'm not complaining, just… observing in public)
- Jeremy Burge (@jeremyburge) June 24, 2020
Why do smartphones allow applications to read the Clipboard?
When you copy something to the Clipboard, applications can read the contents of your Clipboard without manually selecting "Paste".
For example, copying a number to your Clipboard on your iPhone or iPad and opening an application where you want to paste that number is possible because of this feature. When you copy a web address (URL) to the Clipboard and open a browser, it will take you to that address.
This applies to Apple iPhone and iPad as well as Android. Whatever operating system of the smartphone you are using, the applications can read your Clipboard.
Your copied text could be sent to a remote server
However, as TikTok has shown, apps can also capture your Clipboard content in the background and do whatever they want with it. They can send the contents of your Clipboard to a remote server.
We do not blame any application for doing this, we just say that it is technically possible and there is nothing to stop it on both iOS and Android. Applications do not need to ask permission before reading Clipboard as they do before reading your contacts, photos, and location.
Copying private content is dangerous
Let's assume that you are using a password manager and you need to copy the password of a bank account or a credit card number to paste it into another application. If you leave this personal information on your Clipboard, other applications you use, such as TikTok, can read the Clipboard and view this data.
The same goes for all sensitive data types, such as names and addresses or even private photos. The applications you open can see what's on your Clipboard.
The only way to really protect yourself after copying data is to clean up the Clipboard by copying some other data. For example, you can highlight any word on any webpage or in any application and select "Copy".
Apple devices, as well as Android, do not remember the history you copied to the Clipboard, as Windows can. Applications can simply view the current copy on your Clipboard, which is the last thing you copied.
On a desktop or laptop, it works differently
Technically, on Windows or Mac computers, any application you use can also read your Clipboard at any time.
However, on a desktop system, you probably have access to many services through your web browser. Web applications cannot automatically read the Clipboard without your permission. You must manually upload content to a site.
Facebook can't track your Clipboard, but surely the Facebook app on your phone can .
Your Clipboard is not as private as you think
The above news is a reminder of what applications really have access to our phones.
Let us mention here that there is no way to install an application on iPhone, iPad or Android without letting it read from the Clipboard.