Reddit, LinkedIn, TikTok to stop snooping on user clipboards

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Several apps will stop copying clipboard data after being exposed by iOS 14.

Apple’s iOS 14 was just announced last month but it is already making waves in the tech world. That’s partially thanks to a new privacy feature that notifies users when an app copies something from another app on their phone. This includes their clipboard.

Notably, the latest iOS version is only available in a private beta for developers. However, that hasn’t stopped many astute observers from noticing that several apps are regularly copying clipboard content without warning.

In response, Reddit, LinkedIn, and TikTok all say that they are ending the practice.

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The thought of an app copying your clipboard contents with every keystroke is somewhat unnerving. However, that’s exactly what many apps have been doing. iOS 14 is simply exposing a trend that has gone undetected until now.

On LinkedIn’s side, its vice president of engineering, Erran Berger, said that the app copies clipboard contents to perform an “equality check” between what a user is inputting and their clipboard. He didn’t say why the check is necessary or what exactly it is for. However, he did note that “We [LinkedIn] don’t store or transmit the clipboard contents.”

Meanwhile, Reddit told The Verge “We tracked this down to a codepath in the post composer that checks for URLs in the pasteboard and then suggests a post title based on the text contents of the URL.”

The statement adds, “We do not store or send the pasteboard contents. We removed this code and are releasing the fix on July 14th.”

Another massively popular app, TikTok was also accused of using a similar privacy-invasive clipboard copying practice. In response, TikTok said it was part of an “anti-spam” feature and that it is now being discontinued.

Start of a Reckoning

The fact that three major apps have already been accused of using this practice is concerning. If popular services like LinkedIn, Reddit, and TikTok are doing so, then it’s likely that a lot of other apps are as well.

Back in February, two iPhone developers raised concerns about this exact issue. They noted that dozens of apps engage in the practice and highlighted how information is leaked through the clipboard.

It’s a concerning issue for user privacy. Many people copy and paste sensitive information like passwords, phone numbers, and email addresses. For the most part, this data stays in the clipboard unless it is deleted. If apps are stealthily copying clipboard data, users’ private information could be accidentally compromised or viewed by the offending app.

Fortunately, a public beta of iOS 14 is expected to launch in the next few weeks. Once it does, it will be very interesting to see what other apps copy data behind the scenes.

As for Apple’s latest OS, the reports of clipboard copying behavior show that its new privacy features are beneficial. At the very least, they can help reassure users that apps won’t be gathering clipboard data without their knowledge. Moreover, since the practice is being exposed, it’s likely that more apps and developers will discontinue it altogether in the coming days.

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