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App Overhaul: TikTok

How Have I Been Using This App?

As I had mentioned in my introduction blog post, I am someone who fell victim to making a TikTok account during the height of COVID isolation in March 2020. I say victim as it is an app I was never expecting to be so addicted to. I utilize TikTok almost daily to watch videos posted on the platform. Prior to starting this major project, I had never posted anything. For my project, I decided to dive deeper into the app by exploring the more public side aka the posting side. I changed my account name to @brittybakes and decided to post baking and cake decorating content.

My first video posted at the end of January took me about 2-3 hours to make (that’s how long it takes to decorate a cake irl) and then another 1-2 hours to edit. I used the InShot app to edit. Let’s just say it definitely takes awhile to figure everything out. This video got about 620 views which I thought was really cool! Looking back, I am guessing that TikTok pushed the video out to many user’s pages since it was my first post. After posting this video, I realized that TikTok offers creators an analytics feature (I will get into this more below). I turned this on for my next post and it allowed me to see some cool stuff on my content. I definitely have not used the app as much as I had planned and have only posted 4 videos. I think this is because of how time consuming my filming is, I definitely don’t have the time to make a cake every weekend. I am still hoping to post another video or two before my final recap and will update more then!

Purpose/Intended Audience

TikTok is a free social media application that is intended for the sharing of short form videos. Initially, videos were a maximum of 15 seconds in length. This was upped to one minute, then extended again to three minutes. In February of 2022, TikTok announced that they will be allowing 10 minute videos in the near future. This means that the app is moving away from the short video classification and will begin to allow longer content.

TikTok was formely known as musical.ly in the United States, but was rebranded in 2018.

Using the App

Getting Started

  • Check out this guide for a helpful step by step on how to create your TikTok account after downloading the app from your app store. Note that users should be at least 13 years old and that users under 18 require parental approval.
  • Decide if you want your account to be private (only the followers you approve can see your account posts) or public (anyone can see what you post)

Viewing and Interacting With Videos

  • As you begin to watch videos on the main page, TikTok’s algorithm will create a feed of videos that it thinks you will be interested in watching. This feed is called the For You Page (#fyp).
  • TikTok will also have a separate page that you can scroll through which includes only the accounts that you follow.
  • Lastly, there is a TikTok discover page. This page shows users what songs, videos, or hashtags are trending at the moment. There is also a search feature at the top of the page which can be used to search for keywords, specific hashtags, specific songs, or specific accounts.
  • Similar to Instagram, you can interact with videos by liking them, commenting on them, or sharing them with others.

Sharing Content

  • TikTok allows users to create and edit their own videos directly on the app. This guide gives a great step-by-step on how to create a video. Users can also upload an already edited or filmed video to the app.
  • Users are able to use things such as filters when directly recording on the app.
  • Regardless of whether the video is filmed on the app or uploaded, users can add numerous effects, text, and stickers. They can also add music or other sounds from the app library to use along with or instead of their original video audio. Captions and voiceovers are also available.
  • Users are also able to duet someone else’s video. This allows your video to be placed beside someone else’s to be viewed simultaneously.
  • When creating content, you can add #hashtags to your post to help categorize the content. This helps to expand views and help the algorithm to read your posts.

Analytics

  • TikTok offers users an analytics feature to allow users to evaluate their success on TikTok.
  • This post explains in great detail how the analytics tool works. Note that it states you must have a TikTok business account (also free) to use the tool; however I was able to turn on analytics from my basic account without switching over.
  • TikTok divides their analytics into four sections: Overview, Content, Followers, and LIVE
  • OverviewThis section shows analytic details from the last week, month, or two months. Here you can view: your overall number of video views, overall number of profile views, number of likes/comments/share, as well as stats on contents and followers. It also shows +/- what % these numbers have changed.
  • Content- This section will show which of your videos have been the most popular as well as information about each post, including views, likes, comments and shares.
  • Followers- This section breaks down your followers including what part of the world they are from, their genders, and your follower growth rate.
  • LIVE- This section breaks down how many people viewed your live videos, the amount of time you have spent live and how many diamonds you have earned (more on that below).
  • Overall, this can be a useful tool for creators who are actively trying to grow and track their progress on the app.

Creator Fund

  • The TikTok creator fund exists “to celebrate and support the best and brightest talent on our platform.”
  • There is no limit on the number of creators who can join.
  • TikTok states that they started the creator fund because they “want to show our appreciation to our brilliant creator community by rewarding them for their incredible TikTok videos and creativity. We want all creators to have the opportunity to earn money doing what they love and turn their passion into a livelihood.”
  • A variety of factors influence the funds a creator can earn. This includes the number of views, the level of content engagement as well as following the Community Guidelines and Terms of Service.
  • There is no limit to the amount of funds allocated to creators and no daily cap on how much $ is given out per day. TikTok says that they “have committed to £231 million over the next 3 years to the Creator Fund.”
  • Eligibility: Creators must reside in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, or Italy (Canada coming mid-2022); they must be at least 18 years of age; must have at least 10 000 followers, have at least 100k video views in the previous 30 days; and have an account that respects their Community Guidelines and Terms of Service.

Video Gifts/Diamonds

  • These gifts/diamonds are another way that creators can receive money from followers.
  •  TikTok awards Diamonds to creators based on the popularity of their videos.
  • Viewers can purchase coins on the app and use them to send gifts/diamonds during LIVE videos as well as to add gifts in the comments on videos from creators who have this function enabled. These gifts or Diamonds can be redeemed by the creator as cash.

Terms of Use, Privacy & Safety Guidelines

Community Guidelines

In short, TikTok’s community guidelines are very similar to other social media platforms and state that:

“TikTok’s mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy. We are building a global community where people can create and share, discover the world around them, and connect with others across the world. We are committed to maintaining a supportive environment for our growing community. Our Community Guidelines establish a set of norms and common code of conduct that provide for a safe and welcoming space for everyone. At TikTok, we prioritize safety, diversity, inclusion, and authenticity. We encourage creators to celebrate what makes them unique and viewers to engage with what inspires them; we believe that a safe environment helps everyone do so openly.  We prize the global nature of our community and strive to take into account the breadth of cultural norms where we operate. We also aim to cultivate an environment for genuine interactions by encouraging authentic content on TikTok. Our Community Guidelines apply to everyone and everything on TikTok. We proactively enforce them using a mix of technology and human moderation and aim to do so before people report potentially violative content to us. We also encourage our community members to use the tools we provide on TikTok to report any content or account they believe violates our Community Guidelines…”

They then continue with VERY long and detailed explanations of what is and is not allowed under the following categories: minor safety; dangerous acts and challenges; suicide, self harm, and disordered eating; adult nudity and sexual activity; bullying and harassment; hateful behaviour; violent extremism; integrity and authenticity; illegal activities and regulated goods; violent and graphic content; copyright and trademark infringement; platform security; and finally ineligibility for the for you feed.

Terms of Use

Here is a shortened version of TikTok’s terms of use for the US. Note that the following bolded titles are taken directly from the terms of use document.

  • Your Relationship With Us
    This section states all the legal jargon and what terms are meant by “us, we, you/your, them” etc.
  • Accepting the Terms
    By using TikTok’s services you are entering into this contract with them and you are accepting all requirements listed in the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, and Community Guidelines documents.
  • Changes to Terms
    TikTok can update their terms at any time. If an update occurs you will be notified to accept the new terms. If you do not accept the terms, you must stop accessing their services.
  • Your Account with Us
    You agree that you are going to make an account with TikTok. You agree that you will keep your password private and you are the sole person responsible for what your account is being used for. TikTok has the right to disable your account at any time. You must contact TikTok at a specific email if you would like your account to be deleted. Once deleted, you are not able to reactivate your account or retrieve any content or information.
  • Your Access to and Use of Our Services
    This section outlines ALL of the things you may not do on the platform/with your account and again states that they can disable your account at anytime they believe you are violating these requests or the community guidelines.
  • Intellectual Property Rights
    By accepting these terms of service you are agreeing as well to the terms of their Copyright Policy.
  • Content
    This is the longest section of the document. In brief, there is “TikTok Content” owned by TikTok and “User Content” owned by the person uploading the work. You have no right to receive money from user content, sound clips, video recordings etc that are made available by the app, and you can not monetize user content from third party service (“e.g. , you cannot claim User Content that has been uploaded to a social media platform such as YouTube for monetization).” You also agree that you are viewing content at your own risk. There is also lots of legal jargon about music and music rights… Honestly that is about I understood from this section as it is very formal, wordy, and not at all user friendly presentation in the way that Instagram’s was.
  • Indemnity
    You agree that TikTok is not liable for any fees relating to your own personal breach of these terms.
  • EXCLUSION OF WARRANTIES
    Yes, they wrote this in all caps. Again, legal jargon that I can’t fully understand. Perhaps I should ask my lawyer fiancé to explain it but he would probably just tell me to “get off the spyware app”.
  • LIMITATION OF LIABILITY
    Ditto ^
  • Other Terms
    Glossary of definitions you may need to understand to attempt to read this document.

Data Policy
Here is a breakdown of TikTok’s data policy and how they collect and use your information. Note that the following bolded phrases are taken directly from their policy.

Here are the technologies TikTok uses:

  • Cookies
    Text files to help identify your device and are stored on your browser. They use both “session cookies” (exist only while your browser is open then are deleted automatically) and “persistent cookies” (stay after your browser is closed for a certain amount of time).
  • Local Storage
    Files created by the app that are stored on your device. They are similar to cookies and help to speed up app function.
  • Application Programmable Interface (API)
    A software that helps TikTok communicate with their service providers.
  • Software Development Kits (SDKs)
    Code that allows data on your device, network, and website interaction to be collected.
  • Pixels
    Small, invisible image files used to collect information about your website visit.
  • Mobile advertising IDs
    A unique number used by TikTok to recognize your device.

Here are the categories of tracking technologies that TikTok uses:

  • Identification and security
    Platform sign in recognition to make sure that your account is being signed into by you and not someone in another country etc.
  • Content personalization
    Technologies to allow personalized content. For example, your unique TikTok number.
  • Remembering your preferences
    Technologies to remember the setting you have selected such as language, and privacy.
  • Functionality
    Tracking technologies to help make the application more efficient. Examples: what device you use, what software, battery level.
  • Analytics
    Technologies used to analyze how you use the platform.
  • Advertising and measurement
    Tracking technologies to help show relevant ads and communicate with advertisers.

Note that TikTok states in their policy that all of the above tracking technologies can be either first or third party. Thus, advertisers, analytics, and other companies working with TikTok may have access to this information as well. They even offer an entire list of partner companies who use cookies on their platform.

Here is how you can control these technologies:

  • Personalised Ads in the TikTok app
    You must consent to personalized advertisements by switching the setting on under your personalization and data settings on the app.
  • Advertising ID
    TikTok states that on Apple devices you can enable the “Limit Ad Tracking” and on Androids you can enable the “Opt out of Ads Personalization” settings in your device settings.
  • Partner opt-outs
    Lastly, they state that many of their partners offer their own opt-outs on the partner’s own website. This means you must go through their list to find out which companies are using your information and how/if you can opt-out.

Privacy Policy

Here is a summary of TikTok’s privacy policy including how they collect and use your information.

Here is the information TikTok collects:

  • Your Profile Information
    This includes all information provided when registering for an account (username, password, email, phone number, birthday etc.).
  • User Content and Behavioural Information
    This includes all of the content you upload to the application. Some examples TikTok lists are “identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken.” This section also includes the information they gather on how you interact with the platform.
  • Information from Third Parties
    This includes any data you have chosen to share through third parties. For example, using your Google or Facebook account to register for your TikTok account will result in the automatic sharing of information between these parties and TikTok.
  • Technical Information
    This includes aspects such as your device information, your IP address, your network type, your operating systems etc.
  • Location
    They collect information on your approximate location based off your SIM card or IP address. Depending on your permission settings, they may also collect exact location information using GPS.
  • Find other users and invite your friends
    If you enable the “find friends” function and sync it with your phone contact list or another third party app such as Facebook/What’s App etc., TikTok will use the contact information provided to send these people a text or message through the application inviting them to view your profile.
  • In-App purchases
    Purchases are made through you Google Play or App Store accounts, TikTok does not collect any financial or billing information.
  • Proof of your identity or age
    TikTok may require proof of identity or age in order to access certain features such as livestreams, pro accounts, or verified accounts.

Here are some examples from the list of how TikTok uses your personal data:

  • Communicate with you to provide support, information on service changes, and personalize your content.
  • To help combat acts of spam, abuse, fraud and illegal activity on the platform.
  • Develop, test, and carry out improvements in platform functionality.
  • Provide you with personalized advertising.
  • To inform their algorithms.

Here are the ways that TikTok shares your data with third parties:

  • Business Partners
    As mentioned earlier, using another platform to register for an account will result in the sharing of information such as your email, username, public profile etc. from the third party application or website. Additionally, if you opt to share content from TikTok on another platform the video, username, and text or link to the video will be shared.
  • Payment Providers
    TikTok will share data relevant to the payment process to facilitate transactions. For example, when coins are purchased a coin ID is shared to allow the correct value of coins to be associated with your account.
  • Service Providers 
    Information (unspecified) is shared with service providers to support the platform.
  • Analytics Providers
    Information (unspecified) is shared with analytics partners.
  • Advertisers and Advertising Networks
    Information on how many/which users have viewed an advertised is shared. They will also share your device ID.
  • Our Corporate Group
    TikTok states that they may share your information with “other members, subsidiaries, or affiliates of our corporate group, to provide the Platform including improving and optimising the Platform, preventing illegal use and supporting users.”
  • Law Enforcement
    Information will be shared with law enforcement if there is a legal requirement to do so. These reasons may include to protect users, to uphold their terms of service, due to a legal obligation/request, or to detect/prevent fraud.
  • Public Profiles
    Profiles that are listed as public are available for anyone to view. This content can also be shared by anyone to anyone.
  • Sale or Merger
    In the event that TikTok buys or sells any assets, information may be transferred.

Here is where TikTok stores your data:

  • Data collected may be stored on servers in the United States or Singapore.
  • Data may also be stored in other places outside of the country you reside.

Here is how you can manage or delete information

  • You can delete user content that is uploaded.
  • In your application settings, you can control who can message you, view your content, and comment on your videos.
  • You can choose to delete your entire account in your settings. However, TikTok states that “We retain your information for as long as it is necessary to provide you with the service. Where we do not need your information in order to provide the service to you, we retain it only for so long as we have a legitimate business purpose in keeping such data. However, there are occasions where we are likely to keep this data for longer in accordance with our legal obligations or where it is necessary for the establishment, exercise or defence of legal claims.”

Privacy Policy for Younger Users

Interestingly enough, TikTok has a separate privacy policy for younger users. Here is a short summary of what this includes.

  • Limited information is collected when a younger user registers for the app. This includes their username, password, and birthdate. They will also collect some information automatically from the device such as the IP address, device ID, “country-level location,” time in app and general video watch time.
  • Information may still be used in ways mentioned above such as for analytics, personalization, troubleshooting, and legal compliance.
  • TikTok states that they “share the information we collect with our corporate group and with service providers as necessary for them to perform a business purpose, professional service, or technology support function for us.” They may also share information if it is required by law in response to a request by court order, law enforcement, and public agencies such as children’s services etc.
  • TikTok claims that they do not sell the information of Younger Users to third parties.

TikTok + Education

Similar to my feelings on Instagram in my last post, I do not believe that TikTok has much value in an educational setting. Considering children under 18 need parental permission to utilize the application, it is not at all practical or safe for students to be using TikTok at school. I think that the content on the application varies so greatly that it is almost impossible to ensure students are viewing only acceptable content. I understand that there are many things on TikTok that are popular with middle and high school aged students, such as the trending dances. However, students do not need to have an account in order to learn these dances.

As an adult who uses TikTok frequently for my own entertainment, it find it extremely unsettling how many of my young students (approx. ages 9-11) are using this application at home. I think that a lot of parent are not aware or don’t care about the content their children might run into. When my students bring up TikTok in class it makes me quiet upset and I often tell them that I don’t want to hear them talking about it in the classroom as they are too young to legally even be on the application (minimum age is 13 with parental permission).

Final Thoughts

In a personal sense, I LOVE using TikTok. I find the application very engaging and amusing. I really enjoy how their algorithm brings content to me that I am interested in and want to see. I will for sure be continuing to use TikTok at least in the viewer sense. I don’t think that I will continue to post to my account after this class is over as I find it very time consuming and not personally rewarding. I also would like to make my account private again as I do not think that any parents, staff, strangers etc. need to be seeing what videos I am liking on TikTok.

As for the privacy and data aspects of this application, my fiancé has always been very opinionated about TikTok and refers to it as the “spyware app.” After reading through all of these documents, I don’t personally think that the data TikTok is collecting and sharing is much different from other social media applications. All in all, I think that this continues to be something that each individual must decide where their comfort level is. For me, I have used social media sites for so long that I don’t see a reason why I need to stop. I know that data is being tracked and shared and it is something I have just come to accept.

One thought on “App Overhaul: TikTok

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