TikTok’s top secret algorithm has finally been revealed, and it is truly depressing.
A freshly leaked internal document has offered a new perspective on the disturbing ways that the immensely popular video platform keeps users scrolling, even nudging them into “sad” content.
The document, which is said to be called “TikTok Algo 101,” was shared with the New York Times by a person authorized to read but not share it. The anonymous whistleblower gave it to the publication after being upset by its revelation that the social network app pushes users into “‘sad’ content that could induce self-harm,” the Times’s Ben Smith reported.
“The document candidly explains that in pursuit of the company’s ‘bottom line’ of adding daily active users, it has chosen to optimize two closely related metrics in the video stream it offers: ‘retention,’ that is, if a user returns – and ‘time wasted’. The app wants to keep you there as long as possible, ”Smith wrote. To do this, the TikTok algorithm has been optimized for four main goals: “user value,” “long-term user value,” “creator value,” and “platform value,” the document explains.
While the bottom-line drive toward sadness-inducing videos is certainly not in the best interest of users, “there is nothing inherently sinister or incomprehensible about the TikTok recommendation algorithm outlined in the paper,” Smith concluded. .
In fact, the downsides of the mystery-shrouded algorithm possibly pale in comparison to another disclosure of the document: its disrespect for user privacy.
According to a screenshot reviewed by the Times, TikTok content moderators have access not only to publicly shared content, but also to what friends privately upload to the platform to share with each other. This sets TikTok apart from apps like WhatsApp and Signal, which offer end-to-end encryption and thus more privacy.
The lack of protection for TikTok users’ data is possibly the app’s biggest problem.
“Freaking out about surveillance or censorship by TikTok is a distraction from the fact that these issues are far more important than any specific company or its Chinese property,” said Samm Sacks, a member of cybersecurity policy at research organization New America to the Times. “Even if TikTok were US-owned, there is no law or regulation that would prevent Beijing from buying your data on the open data broker market.”
TikTok did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.