TikTok Reportedly Kept a Log of Users Who Watched Gay Content
A group of ex-TikTok employees has blown the whistle on the company's alleged practice of keeping a list of users who watched gay content for at least a year. As the Wall Street Journal reports, employees became concerned about the alleged list because it could be used to identify LGBTQ users and, if leaked or provided to hostile governments, could put those users at risk. Social media companies have long been known to maintain detailed, personal profiles of their users to serve them personalized ads. Nevertheless, social networks are discouraged from collecting more sensitive data such as any data related to sexual orientation because it could make targets of those users.
The thing that sets this alleged list apart, the report notes, is that it was not only accessible to an unusual number of employees at the Chinese-owned company, but that there were times when employees in China controlled the permissions of the list as well. In a statement to the WSJ, a TikTok representative said the data in question was reportedly available for at least a year, but deleted almost a year ago. She added that the Chinese government has never asked for information about US users, nor has the company ever provided such data. The report notes that TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance created a center last year to house US data, in large part to appease US lawmakers, who voiced concerns over the company's data-gathering practices, which could result in the app being banned in the US. Data about users' viewing preferences — which is grouped in "clusters" and spans genres from "alt female" to Golden State Warriors fans — have been a point of internal contention as staff and executives alike became concerned about which employees have access to what data, per the report. Since 2021, the company has revamped its content tagging system by changing it from being identifier-based to one where numbers are assigned to each content cluster. TikTok has also moved data to its new US headquarters and locked down who could access it. All the same, this allegation of an LGBTQ user list, even if it's been deleted, is troubling considering the renewed attacks on queer and trans people and otherwise in the US — much less in other parts of the world where homosexuality is outlawed. More on social media shenanigans: Cursed New Apps Use AI to Tell You What to Say on Tinder