Clock ticking for TikTok users to shine light on how app uses data to control them

TikTok’s “For You” video feed recommender tool is to be scrutinzed by German-funded app DataSkop, which is inviting users of the Chinese-owned social media platform to submit their personal data so it can paint an accurate picture of how they are being manipulated.

“What kinds of content is TikTok’s "For You" recommender showing us?” That is the question DataSkop posed in a press release issued today. It added: “What niches are users being led into? DataSkop’s second data donation project is designed to find answers to questions like these over the coming months.”

To that end, TikTok users have until the end of March to donate their personal usage data to the DataSkop project. “By analyzing these data sets, we will gain deeper insight into how the platform’s recommender system works,” said DataSkop.

It added: “Disinformation, hate speech, rabbit holes – social media platforms carry polarizing content which impacts our society. This also holds true for TikTok. The platform’s name has been coming up recently amid heated debates about the dissemination of Russian propaganda, the lack of protection for minors on the internet, and discriminatory content moderation.”

DataSkop hopes to use the information it garners to track the popular platform – used by over a billion people, or one eighth of the global population – and glean insight into data “trends and niches” promoted by it.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is due to testify before the US Congress on March 23, amid nationwide efforts to ban TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Congress alleges that the social media app is aligned to the Chinese Communist Party.

High-ranking US officials are increasingly claiming China as the North American superpower’s biggest threat, with FBI head Christopher Wray saying its use of TikTok constitutes a threat to national security.

DataSkop is a joint research project based in Germany comprising AlgorithmWatch, the European New School of Digital Studies, the University of Applied Sciences, and nonprofit media education body Mediale Pfade. It is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

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