Ex-employees accuse TikTok of compiling information on users who watched LGBTQ content

Social media platform TikTok is facing new complaints over data security after former employees came forward about the company compiling files on users who watch gay content.

Federal and state lawmakers, companies and institutions alike have found it necessary to debate and even institute restrictions on the usage of the platform owned by Chinese parent company Bytedance. While President Joe Biden’s administration has embraced the influence potential of the controversial app, a new report from The Wall Street Journal found that even alphabet activists have cause for concern.

Friday, the Journal reported on allegations from former TikTok employees from the UK, Australia and the United States who’ve all contended the company had compiled data monitoring the habits of users who frequently viewed LGBT content and kept those files on a dashboard.

According to the employees, concerns over the data collection and its potential uses, such as the ability to blackmail users over their content preferences, were first voiced to top executives in 2021 and continued to be a concern in 2021.

Reacting to the report, a spokesperson for TikTok offered a statement that didn’t deny the claim, but instead insisted, “Safeguarding the privacy and security of people who use TikTok is one of our top priorities.”

“TikTok does not identify individuals or infer sensitive information such as sexual orientation or race based on what they watch,” the statement noted and the company also asserted that access to those data clusters had been restricted in 2021 before deleting them in 2022.

The report of targeted databases came after Biden’s team had announced the hiring of hundreds of TikTok influencers to promote the administration’s agenda toward impressionable voter blocs. Axios reporter Sophia Cai said, “A measure of the importance the White House is placing on its digital strategy: Rob Flaherty, who leads the effort, has been named assistant to the president — the same rank as the White House communications director and press secretary. Four full-time WH staffers are focused on influencers and independent content creators.”

Despite the administration’s enthusiasm for the social media platform, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has voiced its own concerns over the dangers posed by the app. A 2022 report conducted by the organization sought greater safeguards for user data from tech companies, chiefly as it pertained to their highly targeted algorithms.

“This includes ceasing the practice of targeted surveillance advertising, in which companies use powerful algorithms to recommend content to users in order to maximize profit,” GLAAD’s report said.

Viewers of LGBT-related content weren’t alone in having their data cataloged by preference, employees told the Journal. Other monitored categories included female, alt-female, black male, southeastern black male, and coastal white-collar male.

Meanwhile, while debate rages as to whether or not a TikTok ban should be instituted, other reports have shown how radically different Bytedance has used their Chinese counterpart Douyin to influence the communist nation’s citizens.

“The algorithm is vastly different, promoting science, educational and historical content in China while making our citizens watch stupid dance videos with the main goal of making imbeciles,” former Air Force and Space Force Chief Software Officer Nicholas Chaillan had said in February. “TikTok is potentially the most powerful weapon of mass manipulation and misinformation ever created by the [Chinese Communist Party]. It’s a dream come true for them.”


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Kevin Haggerty


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