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Can TikTok access my home WiFi?


There are no stupid questions, but in the recent congressional hearing with TikTok's CEO Shou Chew, Richard Hudson of North Carolina had this exchanged with a visibly-confused Chew:

Hudson: Mr Chew, does TikTok access the home WiFi network?
Chew: Only if the user turns on the WiFi... I’m sorry, I may not understand the question.
Hudson: So if I have the TikTok app on my phone and my phone is on my home WiFi network, does TikTok access that network?
Chew: It would have to access the network to get connection to the internet, if that’s the question.

(If you can handle the cringe, you can watch the entire exchange on

To give Mr. Hudson some credit, he then went on to rephrase his question into something sensical:

Hudson: Is it possible then that it could access other devices on that home WiFi network?

Can TikTok access other devices on a WiFi network?

This is actually a good question, so let's answer it. In some cases, yes, an app can communicate with other devices on a network. For example, multiple computers on a home network can play games with each other... so intra-network communication is possible, but the two devices have to "consent" to connect to each other. Unless TikTok is exploiting security vulnerabilities in your other devices (blatant hacking), it can't do any more than learn the names of other devices on your network, and what kind of devices they are.

That means, apps can scan your network and see that you have two iPhones, a PC, and a smart fridge on your network. An app can't determine any more than that, but it's still a little invasive and can be used to identify you. Still, there are often checks in place to prevent apps from doing these scans. For example, an iPhone running iOS v14 or later will pop up a warning like this:

"TikTok" would like to find and connect to devices on your local network. This app will be able to discover and connect to devices on the networks you use.

And then, if you click "Don't allow", your iPhone will prevent TikTok from performing one of these network scans. Nice!

For a more detailed answer to the question, see Daniel Pericich's excellent write-up on Medium

A history of congressional cringe

The thing is, after getting past the nonsensical questions, Hudson's final question was still not one for the CEO of TikTok; any tech-savvy individual with some network experience could have provided the same answer. In fact, anyone with a recent iPhone knows that TikTok attempts to scan the local network when connected to WiFi.

This isn't the first time (by far) that representatives of our highest legislative bodies have asked dumb questions to tech CEOs. It would have been great if they had learned from their mistakes (and subsequent online ridicule) the last time. During the hard-to watch hearing with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, Senator Orrin Hatch asked Mr. Zuckerberg, "How do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?" You can almost see the CEO bite his tongue to keep from laughing, so obvious the answer is. "Senator, we run ads."

Once again, Senator Hatch thinks he's asking a hard-hitting question, exposing some fraudulent business activity... when he could have just searched for an answer online or asked any child.

Amazingly, that wasn't the dumbest question in the 2018 hearing. Other hard-hitting questions asked by actual members of congress include:

source: Firstpost: Questions like 'Does TikTok use WiFi' shows that US Congress isn’t equipped to legislate tech

Making fun of our reps in congress is all fun and games until you realize that these are the leaders responsible for making all the laws on tech policy, including banning TikTok, despite knowing nothing about technology and making no effort to learn about it before a public hearing.

Stop, just stop

Distinguished members of congress, please stop embarrassing yourselves publicly on the world's stage. You need to know just a tiny bit about how technology works in order to properly regulate it! If you need tech support and consulting, please contact us before the hearing and we will be happy to assist you. We won't make fun of any of your questions... unless you wait until the hearing to ask them.

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