Tik Tok Tracking

By Makenna Adams

Tik Tok has been under review for many months for tracking and collecting data from its users. To understand the situation, I read “Tik Tok User Data: What Does the App Collect and Why Are U.S. Authorities Concerned?” by By Robert McMillan, Liza Lin and Shan Li for the Wallstreet Journal. 

The app, owned by a Chinese corporation, has faced scrutiny in Washington as concerns grow that the app gathers extensive data on Americans. The types of data collected by the app includes internet address, location, type of device used, browsing history on the app, and messages sent within the app by users. Age and phone number, as recorded when a user signs up for the app, are tracked, along with photos and videos posted, video liked, shared, watched all the way through and re-watched. Of course, the latter data should come at no surprise to users of the app. Fine-tuning the “For You” page is necessary for an enjoyable user experience. In order to see customized content, users must interact with the post in some way; commenting, for example, is a great way to stay on a particular “side” of Tik Tok that a user has interest in. 

Sites like Facebook and Instagram have used similar tactics since their inceptions to gear content towards individuals. A Tik Tok spokesman commented that “the app collects less personal data than some U.S. tech companies like Facebook or Google, whose products track activity across devices.” The reason the app’s activity concerns the U.S., the article asserts, “[is because it could create] a prolonged period of cyberattacks and other efforts to obtain such information.” Officials fear that the corporation will use the information collected by the app to create a database that “can be used for espionage.”

While the fears of officials are valid, they are not particularly new. Internet corporations have tracked data from users for many years, and their actions have been under review for just as long. Tik Tok has asserted that they collect data to “improve the app’s user experience” by customizing content and collecting data to inform its algorithms.