With 1.53 billion users as of 2023, TikTok is the 6th most popular social media platform in the world. In the United States, TikTok is used by more than 100 million monthly active users. An average user spends approximately 1.5 hours every day on the platform. It’s no secret that social media platforms, including TikTok, collect user information. Julian McAuley, a professor of computer science at the University of California San Diego, claims that TikTok, like all major social media companies, collects vast amounts of personal data from users: including a user's age, contact information, viewing habits, search history, and location. However, McAuley notes that TikTok is much more driven by user-specific recommendations compared to other social media platforms. When users ‘like’ posts on TikTok, they provide information to social media companies and other websites where there are ‘like’ button plugins. This allows the app to specifically tailor content to users and keep them more engaged without directly asking their preferences. Additionally, the app curates a “For You” page for each user based on the user’s activity and interaction with other content. While this allows users to be introduced to new content that is specifically tailored to their interests, some users are unhappy with how TikTok tracks their online activity.
Several class action lawsuits have been filed against TikTok regarding their tracking of users’ personal information. Some users have received settlement payouts from previous lawsuits, one of which resulted in a settlement of ninety-one million dollars. Individual users in the "nationwide class" (who live in the U.S. and used the app prior to September 30, 2021), received $27.84 and those in Illinois who not only used TikTok, but created videos before September 30, 2021, received $167.04.
Amidst these suits and public concerns, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify before Congress in March to address these privacy concerns. The House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce committee has alleged the app is linked to the Chinese Communist Party. Further, the committee has publicly stated, "Americans deserve to know how these actions impact their privacy and data security, as well as what actions TikTok is taking to keep our kids safe from online and offline harms.” The committee has made their concerns clear and declares, “[i]t is now time to continue the committee's efforts to hold Big Tech accountable by bringing TikTok before the committee to provide complete and honest answers for people."
TikTok users are seemingly undeterred by these privacy concerns as TikTok is set to continue growing rapidly in both the number of users and in the amount of time users spend on the app.
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