The popular video-sharing app TikTok is facing scrutiny after it was revealed that the company had compiled a list of users who watched LGBTQ+ content on the platform.
The practice was leaked by former employees, who disclosed that TikTok maintained a list that authorised staff could access, containing the IDs of users who engaged with LGBTQ+ related videos.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the practice had been in effect for at least a year, intending to understand trends and increase engagement on the app. The report also highlighted that TikTok created lists for users interested in different content, but those topics were deemed ‘less sensitive’.
When approached for comment, the company informed The Wall Street Journal that protecting user privacy and security is one of its top priorities.
Speaking with The Wall Street Journal, a TikTok spokesperson stated that the app does not identify potentially sensitive information, such as users’ sexual orientation or race, based on their viewing preferences; however, added that the data collected reflects users’ interests and does not necessarily define their identities.
It has also been revealed that TikTok employees in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia raised concerns about this data collection practice with higher-level executives in 2020 and 2021, with fears that employees might share the data with external parties or exploit it to blackmail users.
The revelation of TikTok’s data compilation practices pertaining to LGBTQ+ content has sparked concerns over privacy and the potential risks vulnerable users face. While TikTok has taken steps to address these issues, the situation highlights the ongoing challenges in balancing data-driven insights with user privacy and protection, particularly in the realm of sensitive content.