TikTok will open up its platform to researchers based in the United States as part of an effort to increase its transparency by letting others browse through user profiles, individual posts, comments, and performance metrics.
The social media platform owned by ByteDance had already launched a Research API that could be accessed by members of its Content and Safety Advisory Councils to get insights into how the firm’s content moderation practices work.
Moving forward, the API will be opened to independent researchers who may use the data from TikTok to study social behaviors and other similar dynamics that can explain some of the phenomena that one sees in these large social communities.
Researchers Can Start Sending Their Applications Right Now
At this point, only researchers who are affiliated with a non-profit academic institution will be allowed to tap on this API. To apply, these academics can visit the website of TikTok for Developers and fill out the required application.
According to TikTok, it may take its team from three to four weeks to review and approve an application. It appears that the API can be used for those who receive the green light from ByteDance.
This is the second phase of a plan that seeks to increase the platform’s transparency in regards to how it moderates content and fosters a safe environment for its users. In the third phase, the Research API will be available to researchers from anywhere in the world.
“As part of our efforts to stay accountable to how we moderate and recommend content, we’ve built an API that includes public data on content and accounts on our platform. This API will be made available to researchers globally, starting with academic researchers in the United States and expanding to additional regions and to include NGO researchers as we build capacity”, the company said about this initiative.
US Officials Banned TikTok from Government-Issued Mobile Devices
TikTok’s data privacy policies have been questioned many times by United States officials as the company allegedly has ties with the Chinese government and allows it to harvest data from its more than 1 billion users. One of the practices that have been questioned by tech experts on many occasions is the persistent requests made to users to give permissions that are not really needed for a social app.
In the case of other social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, once the user denies these permissions, there will be no further prompts to grant it unless they are needed to perform certain operations within the app. However, in the case of TikTok, the system repeatedly asks for permission even if the user has already refused once.
In addition, research has pointed out that TikTok’s data was being sent at some point to servers located in China. To address these concerns, ByteDance made a deal with Oracle to move the data from users within the United States to data centers administered by this US-based tech company and located within the country.
Despite this measure, several branches of the US government have opted to ban TikTok from being installed on any mobile devices assigned by the federal government to its employees.
Several states have also enforced similar measures and the same goes for a handful of universities. It is their concern that the conversations, geographical location, usage patterns, and account data from users within government agencies could be actively shared by ByteDance with China’s Communist Party.
Security agencies within the US have warned that, through TikTok’s permissions, the Communist Party could gain access to the data contained in these devices and even manipulate some components if unwary users assign the app extensive privileges.
The company has denied these accusations many times and has said that it has no direct ties with Chinese government officials.
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