This week I choose to take a closer look at TikTok. Previously I have used Tiktok, having downloaded it in the dark days of the beginning of the pandemic – but I was doing so without an account. I will be honest, I have no idea how that worked. My “username” was just a random string of letters and numbers, and although I have probably hundreds of “liked” videos, and a “For You Page” curated to my interests – I have never made a video nor do I have remotely any idea how that might work. Nevertheless I spend time on the app every week. For instance today I spent over an hour scrolling my FYP and somewhat mindlessly staring at recipes, DIY’s, Try on’s (yes, I watch other people show me outfits they made), and the odd (very confusing) berries and cream video.
I have considered the fun applications of creating a Tiktok account for my Major Learning Project, so I thought I would spend some time throughout this week taking a closer look at what goes on behind the scenes of the app – to determine if I wanted to create a real account. First things first, I did pay attention in my last digital citizenship class after all so I decided to do something that I admittedly never do – read the terms of service. I had heard that Tiktok had a reputation for concerning policies and issues in regards to privacy so I figured the terms of service was the place to begin.
It was SO LONG AND COMPLICATED. Reading the following sections, and attempting to understand them (I won’t lie to you I know that I didn’t understand it all fully) took me over 2 hours.
- Terms of Service
- TikTok Platform Cookies Policy
- Open Source
- Virtual Items
- Intellectual Property Policy
- Law Enforcement Guidelines
Let me save you the personal pain and anguish, and point out what I found to be the notable information from the terms . Let’s call it your personal TLDR; section. (On another note, Leigh shared that there is actually an awesome website for this AFTER I toiled away on this for you… I wish I had caught her discord message sooner).
Tiktok spends a great deal of their terms of services explaining what cookies are, and how they are “often” used. What I gleaned from their terms of service is that Tiktok uses both first party (their information) and third party cookies (for advertising) on their application. Additionally, while some cookies are session cookies and only are active while you are using the app – they also employ “persistent cookies” – more on those here. All in all I found the most troubling was the fact that the app not only collects a good deal of personal data – but it also shares that data with third parties that are not involved in it’s operation.
Implications for students/children using the App
The most interesting information that I was not previously aware of was the fact that TikTok has (as of 2019) a separate function of the app for users under the age of 13. In this “section” of the app younger users “…view curated videos: They can’t comment, search, or post their own videos, and their data isn’t collected” (Common Sense Media, 2021). I can imagine for involved parent, ones who maybe require permission before downloading apps this might be a nice reassurance. That being said, since all the app requires is a self-declared birthdate (or links to an already set up google or microsoft account) pre-teens could easily just enter a different birthdate (or may have already on their email account) and be on the regular version of the application.
So, there’s a chance this safety precaution isn’t always utilized. But – I’m not the most knowledgeable on this function of Tiktok having only read about, and not seen it for myself.
Additionally, although I know that Common Sense Media normally has fantastic resources for educators and parents on social media apps – I thought this video on their website was a little outdated – and unintentionally misleading. Although the app did progress from the Musical.ly – it has been my own personal experience that the app is much more than a singing or music video application.
Intellectual Property Policy
I was interested in this section since I had heard a lot about how creators on the application are not always credited for their work, especially creators of colour.
Case in point, when Jimmy Fallon had viral TikToker Addison Rae on to teach him several TikTok dances, without originally (they did eventually) crediting the black creators behind the choreography of many of the dances.
In their Terms and Conditions TikTok does not lay out any information in regards to crediting the original creators of work, whether that is for their dances, sounds or original music that they put out onto the app. In fact it seems that “Intellectual Property” actually refers to users taking care not to violate copyright or trademarks of others. It lays out the process for making a copyright claim, or responding in counter to the claim.
I decided after all the reading and attempting to understand that for myself – with the permissions I had already unknowingly given the app without making an account, that it was worth it for me to go ahead and create an actual username and profile. I think that if I were a person who didn’t use any social media or have many apps on my phone already using cookies and accessing my personal information that I would perhaps think twice about downloading and creating an account on the application. If I had a young child I would certainly only permit them to use the under 13 section. Stay tuned as I learn how to use this app, and attempt to find a way to authentically work it into my Major Learning Project.