Ex-TikTok Employees Say Sensitive User Data Was Accessible


“For at least a year,” TikTok tracked and categorized users who viewed gay content, information that could then be viewed by employees on a dashboard, former TikTok employees said The Wall Street Journal.

The sources, some of whom had also worked for other companies in the tech industry, told the outlet that access to the dashboard was unusual compared to other platforms.

Privacy has long been a contentious issue for the short-form video platform, and government agencies remain concerned over whether US user data could find its way into the hands of TikTok’s owner, Beijing-based ByteDance. However, the spokesperson added that no US user data has been handed over to the Chinese government.

Although the short-form video app doesn’t ask users to reveal their sexual orientation, TikTok categorizes people based on the videos they watch and then prompts the platform to recommend videos in the same area of ​​one’s viewing habits.

Also See: Auburn University in Alabama Banned TikTok on School Wi-Fi and College Devices

According to the former employees, TikTok catalogs videos in “clusters,” with some named things like “employee,” “alternative female,” and “mainstream female.” Within each cluster there are subcategories. For example, “alternative female” may include videos related to tattoos, lesbian content, and simply “Portland,” the former employees said WSJ.

The former employees told the outlet that some employees felt collecting the data was safe because viewing certain content does not necessarily confirm aspects of one’s identity, while others felt cataloging users based on the content they consumed was enough to get access to to include sensitive information about a user, particularly in relation to sexuality.

Related: TikTok pays $92 million to settle personal data ‘theft’ lawsuit

The cluster system unsettled some employees, and TikTok removed the names and replaced them with numbers in 2021. As for the dashboard, a spokesman for the outlet said it was deleted a year ago and the user data was moved to the company’s US unit, where it can be accessed by a much smaller group of authorized employees.

Related: TikTok CEO Testifies in House Hearing: We’re Building a ‘Firewall’ Around US Data

entrepreneur asked TikTok for a comment.

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