October 31, 2020

Users should read TikTok’s privacy terms

TikTok is pretty much like Vine, except it’s unlikely to die soon. That is, if the company that owns it, ByteDance, can overcome the data usage privacy issues that are the subject of many public concerns. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and Chuck Schumer wrote a letter requesting intelligence officials to investigate TikTok for possible national security threats. 

ByteDance, a Chinese owned company, responded in a blog post clarifying that their data centers are located outside of China and are not subject to Chinese law. Users have noticed an absence of coverage regarding the protests in Hong Kong, so this response will certainly help quell accusations of censorship.

The rest of the blog post emphasizes a commitment to transparency, accountability and to inspire creativity and joy. In the company’s efforts to serve the TikTok community effectively and responsibly, the statement also says it will form a committee of outside experts: Bart Gordon, a former U.S. representative who is now a partner for the K&L Gates law firm, and Jeff Denham, a former senator who  now works as a lobbyist for K&L Gates law firm.  

ByteDance announced at the Shanghai Film Festival over the summer that the company has amassed over one billion monthly users. This company is faced with colossal amounts of data to protect and years worth of screentime to conduct. Although the politicians who ByteDance have taken onto their team may be fully committed to generating a positive user experience, the content that is displayed on TikTok’s “For You” homepage is chosen by an algorithm, not a person. 

Programmers aren’t able to see exactly why algorithms produce particular outcomes. These artificial neural networks resemble the human brain in their ability to recognize patterns, and they’re capable of quickly making independent connections between data. 

For example, an algorithm called Deep Patient was trained at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. It was fed information on the medical history of 700,000 people and then asked to predict illnesses. Deep Patient became better than human doctors at predicting if a patient would develop a range of 93 different illnesses within a year, including schizophrenia. Researchers don’t know what patterns the algorithm is seeing in the data, but Mount Sinai hospital has reported that the algorithm’s conclusions are correct. 

According to Sensor, Tower TikTok received 33 million downloads in the first quarter of 2019. If that was kept up, then TikTok has received about 750 new users in the time it took you to read this. That’s 750 more people with their own unique #cringe moments, #storytime favorites.

I actually just opened the app to find more popular hashtag examples, and it resulted in a minor binge that had me completely forgetting what I was doing. TikTok has an extremely effective and addictive algorithm that may be as scary good at its job as Deep Patient is. 

We don’t know yet what the full implications are of how and where these massive stores of data are handled and kept. It’s safe to say this: TikTok will need those lawyers. Unless you plan on socializing entirely offline, keep in mind that you and your data may become victim to the trial and error of our legal system’s process of catching up with technology.

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