Called ‘TikTok Truths’, the new information series will aim to address key questions about TikTok’s data practices, as a means to alleviate user concerns, and ideally win more public support for the app — if that even matters in this context.
As explained by TikTok:
“TikTok Truths is intended to set the record straight about information we collect and how we use, share, and protect it.”
The first post in the new series tackles location and GPS data, keystroke tracking, and biometric information, with brief explainers on exactly how and why TikTok uses each.
Here’s a summary of TikTok’s position on each:
Location and GPS data
TikTok doesn’t exactly start off strong in the first sentence here, by noting that TikTok ‘is not unique in the amount of information it collects’.
TikTok says that, in certain regions, including the US, Australia, and South Korea, current versions of the app don’t collect precise or approximate GPS information from users.
“In other regions where a user is able to grant, and does grant, TikTok permission to use their devices' Location Services, TikTok collects location information based on the device's GPS data, among other things.”
I don’t know, I don’t think that explanation is going to have the reassuring effect that TikTok hopes.
Rumors have long circulated that TikTok is tracking your keystrokes in the app, based on various reports of how the system logs such info.
Which TikTok confirms that it does, within certain parameters:
“TikTok collects certain keystroke patterns or rhythms for security and performance related purposes, such as to verify the authenticity of an account, for risk control, debugging, troubleshooting, and monitoring for proper performance. When people are using TikTok's in-app browser to browse a third party website, TikTok tracks the fact that a key was pressed (a ‘key event’). TikTok does not track which buttons are clicked on a third party website, but rather only the fact that a click has occurred (a ‘click event’).”
Again, probably not as comforting as TikTok likely hoped, but it does also note that as of September 2022, it stopped tracking key events or click events when the in-app browser is used to view a third party website.
So there’s that.
TikTok says that it doesn’t use face or voice data to identify people, and that it only uses these elements for filters and effects, as well as for some limited safety elements.
“Many filters and effects need to analyze someone's face or voice in order to work. For example, a visual filter may need to know where your face and facial features are located to work, and a voice effect may use your voice data to alter it in the way you ask it to.”
TikTok says that it does also use some biometric information in its analysis of videos, photos, and live streams, in order to ensure that they’re safe to display, in terms of age appropriateness and the like.
I guess, the bigger concern here is not so much that it used this information to identify people, so much as it’s tracking and logging that info over time, which can then be accessed by third parties – and in particular, the Chinese Government. And if TikTok is using this info for analysis, then it is being logged somewhere.
0 from 3 so far on TikTok’s reassurance measures.
Camera and Microphone
TikTok states clearly that it does not collect any information from your device’s camera or microphone when the TikTok app is closed.
“We ask people for permission to access their camera and microphone, among other things, to allow them to create and upload videos and photos on TikTok. The camera and microphone are only activated when a user has granted TikTok permission to access them.”
The long-running suggestion that apps are tracking what we say and do in our day-to-day lives has been overblown, with Meta also outright dismissing this notion – largely because it would get them banned from app stores for violating relevant policies.
And really, they don’t have to. Most social apps are able to infer interest based on your activity, or other related elements, like the interests and actions of your friends, family, colleagues, etc. There seems to be little point in risking your entire business on tracking information that you can already infer in other ways, and TikTok, too, has now debunked this notion.
So, more insight from TikTok – though not sure it’s done much, in this first ‘TikTok Truths’ post to alleviate concerns. But it is what it is – TikTok says that it will share more Truths posts over the coming months.