It seems there has been some trouble at TikTok lately. The video sharing app, usually known for its growing popularity and viral content, has been making negative headlines recently due to data privacy concerns and employee leaks. Here’s a roundup of the recent issues facing TikTok.
Britons are urged by Senior MP to delete TikTok
Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, has said users ‘without question’ should delete TikTok to protect their personal data from ‘hostile threats’ from the Chinese government. She has suggested that the app is linked to China’s efforts to build a ‘tech totalitarian state’.
These concerns have risen from employees at TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, using TikTok data to try to track Western journalists and discover their sources.
A TikTok spokesperson reassured Sky News that they could be entrusted with UK users’ data by saying :
‘We’re taking steps like storing UK user data in our data centre operations in Ireland, starting this year; further reducing employee access to data; and minimising data flows outside of Europe.’
TikTok banned at US Colleges
As Bloomberg UK reported, ‘More than 25 states have placed restrictions on the use of TikTok on state-owned equipment.’ This includes bans on TikTok at Auburn University, The University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, and The University of Texas, on school-owned devices, the campus network, or both.
As expected, students have been upset by this, with some calling out the ban for violating their personal freedom. Even some university professors oppose the move. Kate Biberdorf, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, feels like ‘our rights are being taken away’. She uses TikTok as an educational tool for her students by making videos under her account Kate the Chemist, to make science accessible and fun.
This comes as the US government look to try and ban TikTok for their citizens by potentially imposing sanctions on the app to prevent commercial operations in the US.
TikTok employees can decide what goes viral
First reported by Forbes, sources reveal that as well as the algorithm deciding what videos go viral, some employees can secretly choose videos to manually promote in a process called ‘heating’. According to an internal TikTok document, ‘The heating feature refers to boosting videos into the For You feed through operation intervention to achieve a certain number of video views.’ It continues by saying, ‘The total video views of heated videos accounts for a large portion of the daily total video views, around 1-2%, which can have a significant impact on overall core metrics.’
Sources continued to say that heating had been used to entice influencers and brands into partnerships by increasing their video’s view count. This suggests that this process has benefitted those with this type of business relationship, and not others. Without these videos being labelled in your For You page as such, it is impossible to tell what video is there because TikTok thinks you might like it, or whether it wants a particular creator to get more views.
TikTok CEO to appear before US Congress
With the pressure of a US TikTok ban looming, TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on 23rd March 2023. This will be his first ever appearance before a Congressional committee.
As reported by Axios, ‘Chew will be asked about TikTok’s consumer privacy and data security practices, the platforms’ impact on kids, and their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.’
Despite its popularity, TikTok has been making headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. It remains to be seen whether a full ban of the app can be implemented in certain countries, but what is clear is the need for more clarity and transparency on data sharing and usage. It looks like TikTok still has a way to ensure the app satisfies regulators, as well as creators and consumers.
Want to know more about TikTok? Check out Escapade’s blog- TikTok: The Growth of the Platform