TikTok, a social media platform that is currently under scrutiny in the United States for how its Chinese owners might exploit user data, allegedly permitted its staff to access information about users’ browsing activity, including their viewing of LGBTQ-related content. The Wall Street Journal reported that employees could see a “dashboard” or a list of individuals who viewed specific types of content. TikTok videos are sorted into categories based on their topic, and workers were able to access data on user interest in LGBTQ-related categories.
A spokesperson from TikTok confirmed that the dashboard was discontinued last year, and the company stated that it does not identify individuals or infer sensitive information like sexual orientation or race based on users’ viewing habits.
Privacy concerns have become increasingly common in response to the data collection methods used by digital and social media companies in recent years. Customers have become worried about the extent to which company employees have access to their conversational records with the emergence of generative AI chatbots. Meanwhile, social media giant Meta has frequently addressed concerns about its handling of user data and recently settled lawsuits related to its Cambridge Analytica incident by agreeing to pay $725 million.
TikTok has about 150 million users in the United States, but the Biden administration has been pressuring the company to separate its American operations from its Chinese owners, according to the Wall Street Journal. In Montana, lawmakers recently passed a bill prohibiting residents from downloading or using the app, which will likely face legal challenges.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress in March as US government authorities increased pressure on China-based ByteDance’s ownership of the app. Despite this, users of the app appeared to have given Chew some celebrity status after posting videos expressing their admiration for his appearance.