Popular social media app TikTok has for the past 12 months kept a list of users who watch content involving the LGBTQ+ community, some of the company’s employees charged, according to a Wall Street Journal report from earlier in May.
TikTok does not require users to register their sexual orientation when they join the app but the content that is consumed can create profiles for user identities.
What information did employees have access to?
According to the WSJ, employees were able to see which videos affiliated users watched through a dashboard. The employees could also see the users’ ID numbers.
A spokeswoman for TikTok told WSJ that the dashboard that employees could use to access the data on who watches LGBTQ+ content was deleted in the US nearly a year ago. However, whether this continues to happen in other regions is unclear.
The spokeswoman continued by saying that TikTok does not infer people’s sexual identities, they just build an algorithm to produce content that they want to consume. She argued that many users may consume LGBTQ+ content without being LGBTQ+.
The employees said that they had access to other information as well, although less sensitive than this.
Concerns over TikTok accessing this information
In 2020 and 2021, employees in Australia. the United States and the United Kingdom expressed concerns to high-level executives. They expressed fear that the collected data may be shared with third parties, or that it could be used to blackmail people.
While many companies collect personal data from their users to better target ads to them, it is uncommon for sites to collect information on sensitive demographic information like sexuality.
In May 2023, three members of US President Joe Biden’s cabinet spoke on concern over China’s rising position as a global power and the threat that Chinese-owned TikTok may pose.
The app has also been banned from Canadian and Australian government-issued phones because there is fear that China can access sensitive user data.