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TikTok is manipulative, addictive, and bad for privacy

What’s behind the extraordinary growth and using the app

hand holding a phone with tiktok logo

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Whether you prefer it or not, TikToks numbers are impressive. It has over 1 billion monthly active users. It had been downloaded 3 billion times worldwide in fact it is so far probably the most downloaded app this season. The common user opens TikTok 8 times each day. Globally, children spend typically 75 minutes each day on TikTok, rendering it the social media marketing platform they’re utilizing the most.

With one of these astounding numbers, TikTok will need to have something special, right? Well it has. It uses manipulative user experience (UX) design to help keep users glued to it. It really is created to trigger compulsive use, especially in more impressionable audiences such as for example teenagers. Additionally it is bad for privacy. I used TikTok for 30 days and, in this edition of the newsletter, I’ll explain why and how it really is manipulative, addictive and contains unwanted effects on users privacy. You can even watch my video concerning the topic on my YouTube channel.

TikTok wants you hooked because you log in. The initial page once you open the app may be the FOR YOU PERSONALLY page, where short videos carefully selected to seize your attention will undoubtedly be displayed. The videos are shown completely portrait mode, occupying virtually all the devices interface. There is absolutely no signalization of progress or duration of the knowledge, completing the entire immersion and the optimization for maximal consumption. As TikTok knows just what you’re seeing and just how many seconds you stop on each video, it’ll select videos for you personally that may intrigue you similarly, keeping you hypnotized.

The videos come in autoplay and shown within an endless scroll. They are features known for triggering addictive behavior and there have been legislative plans in the usa to ban them. It generally does not stop there: differently from Twitter or Facebook, an individual cannot scroll up fast and jump several videos. Regardless of the strength of one’s scroll, you will definitely be shown another video TikTok selected for you personally, one at a time or excersice your finger to actively scroll up after every video begins. They’re in charge of everything you see, not you. That is stimulating, and will be another trigger for compulsive use, because the content placed at the FOR YOU PERSONALLY page is statistically tailored to function as most captivating easy for you. Their data is optimized and personalized to steal just as much attention as it could.

On TikTok, there is absolutely no space for long descriptions or external links with more info which may possibly take an individual from the app. They need one to stay mesmerized there. TikTok videos usually contain subtitles, in order that even though you are in work or somewhere enabling you to not allow sound on, it is possible to still build relationships the content. In the event that you watch a trend you want to participate, simply tap on the soundtrack name and a pink utilize this song button begins pulsing in the bottom of the app. You’re invited to participate! The many stimuli for users to become creators been employed by, since it is estimated that 83% of TikTok users also have created content.

However, these 83% user-creators will have challenging: successful content on TikTok must follow a particular formula. Videos should be short, fast, quickly awe-inspiring and preferably using soundtracks, filters, effects, descriptions, tags and content which are currently trending in the app. To thrive on TikTok, you need to be fixated onto it. You must utilize it frequently to learn what’s trending on the app, otherwise you’ll lose the timing and timing is everything. There exists a popular dance everyone else does? Stop what you are really doing, get dressed, get your phone in the vertical position and begin recording now. The road to TikTok success is joining micro-trends and mimicking successful videos highlighting your individual touch, in a bandwagon-compulsion style. If you’re a teenager and you also missed a trend, you lost a very important opportunity of online popularity and social validation among your peers.

With this topic, teenagers have stated that their social lives currently revolve around TikTok: new trends, dances, viral videos, emerging stars, who’s popular over there and who’s not, what’s cool and what’s not. The energy of TikToks algorithm over todays youth is inconceivable. Getting together can be an possibility to attempt a TikTok viral, so get your phones ready.

Concerning the content on TikTok: it really is known that creators have 3 seconds to enchant the viewer, otherwise their video will undoubtedly be thrown into TikToks forgetfulness blackhole. To be able to captivate in 3 seconds, this content must essentially be outstanding: either shocking, irreverent, socially awkward, scary, performing admirable abilities, showing exposed bodies and so forth. There is absolutely no room for ordinariness. Using filters, effects, pop music and elements that provide the video an upbeat vibe and an accelerate pace is nearly essential unless you already are a TikTok celebrity, then you can certainly do anything you want as well as your flock will rain likes and comments you.

TikTok isn’t the right place for content that’s purely informative or educational, that follows a standard learning pace, that lasts a lot more than 1 minute, which has an introduction, a development, and a thoughtful conclusion, that will not use filters, music or pyrotechnic effects, that will not play the role of catchy or oversimplify things, that will not concentrate on dazzling in the initial 3 seconds. There is absolutely no time for deeper reflections, critical thinking or autonomy to process if that which was seen is practical or not. Everything is indeed fast that viewers just have this content pushed down their throats. Users are passive and paralyzed, waiting to be amazed. In case a video has a large number of likes and interactions, it becomes viral, then it becomes socially validated as desirable and cool, then it becomes a micro-trend, then it really is repeated a large number of times with little twists by people all over the world and it becomes a cultural truth. This is actually the power of TikTok. That’s how todays youth are consuming information and how they receive important messages in what is personally or socially desirable. Whatever is TikTok relevant could have passed the test of capturing the viewers attention in 3 seconds. I’m uncertain if any real-life meaningful content can pass this test. However in any case, this is actually the kind of content that teenagers have already been consuming for typically 75 minutes each day.

Besides deceptive patterns when it comes to design and algorithm that I mentioned previously targeted at glueing TikTok users to the screen indefinitely you can find two additional factors which are triggers for compulsive behavior:

Dopamine shot from likes and subscribers

The initial element is common to other internet sites such as for example Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, where in fact the user is conditioned to value likes, shares, comments and subscribes almost as a genuine validation of these personhood. Each and every time someone receives a like or perhaps a subscribe on TikTok, the individual gets a dopamine shot in the mind also it feels good. To obtain additional dopamine hits, the individual must keep posting popular content. On TikTok, once we saw above, this means that the individual must keep searching for trends, soundtracks, hashtags, and challenges to reproduce. An individual is captured through their brain chemistry, and today cannot stop engaging with the app.

Everything is impressive and intermittent reinforcement

The next element is that everything on TikTok is astonishing and designed to charm in 3 seconds. However, not absolutely all videos are exactly delightful for you; some are plus some aren’t. This makes an individual enter an intermittent reinforcement loop, as Dr. Julie Albright, a sociologist focusing on digital culture, told Forbes:

when youre scrolling sometimes you visit a photo or something thats delightful also it catches your attention and you also get that little dopamine hit in the mind in the pleasure center of the mind. So you desire to keep scrolling.

Sometimes you see something delightful to the mind, and sometimes this content will not provoke exactly the same reaction. You cannot stop strolling and soon you find another delightful content to obtain additional dopamine. This intercalation, in psychological terms, is named intermittent reinforcement and there’s extensive research on this issue.

In behaviorism, Intermittent Reinforcement is really a conditioning schedule when a reward or punishment (reinforcement) isn’t administered each and every time the required response is conducted. This differs from continuous reinforcement that is once the organism receives the reinforcement each time the required response is conducted.

When younger audiences, that are still maturing and forming their character and world view, see a thing that intrigues them, they’ll be fixated on the app to get other similarly exciting things. Children and teenagers are a lot more impressionable. That explains how kids can stick to average 75 minutes each day scrolling on TikTok.

As well as the triggers for compulsive behavior, additionally, there are relevant privacy concerns on TikTok. They’re of three different kinds, when i will explain now.

The initial type identifies TikToks privacy policies and practices within the app. In 2020, these were caught spying on keystrokes. In accordance with The Economic Times:

TikTok starts collecting data when you download the app. It tracks web sites youre browsing and the method that you type, right down to keystroke rhythms and patterns, based on the companys privacy policies and terms of service. The app warns users it has full usage of photos, videos and contact information of friends stored in the devices address book, if you don’t revoke those permissions

Recently, these were accused of aggressive data harvesting, where they requested a lot more permissions than essential to make the app work. In accordance with Robert Potter, co-CEO of Internet 2.0, once the app is used, it has a lot more permissions than it certainly needs. () it grants those permissions automagically. Whenever a user doesnt give it permission [TikTok] persistently asks. () In the event that you tell Facebook you dont desire to share something, it wont ask you again. TikTok is a lot more aggressive.

Additionally, TikTok uses deceptive design to create users share more data than they might do should they had more info. Check out the screenshot below, extracted from TikToks sign-up process. The pop-up asks are you currently above 18, and can you allow TikTok showing personalized ads? May be the question concerning the age or advertising? Because the two questions are merged, an individual is forced to simply say yes to advertising. It is a typical case of deceptive design in data protection, because they confuse an individual to create it problematic for her or him to get a privacy-preserving attitude.

TikTok push notification asking the user to confirm that he or she is over 18 and allows personalized ads

The next kind of privacy concern is regarding surveillance, spying and censorship from China, considering that TikToks parent company, ByteDance, is China-based. In June 2020, India banned TikTok for surveillance and cybersecurity concerns. President Trump also threatened to accomplish exactly the same in USA, even though plan was not continued by President Biden.

Recently, an associate of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the usa needed a ban on TikTok from Google and Apple app stores because of fears of cybersecurity issues linked to data transfers to China. Everything began with a BuzzFeed News report, which showed that employees of TikToks parent company, situated in Beijing, had accessed private information from users situated in america. In accordance with a letter sent on June 30th 2022 to the brand new York Times by TikToks CEO Shou Zi Chew, some employees in China, responsible for clearing internal security protocols, can indeed access certain information from United States-based TikTok, such as for example public videos and comments.

TikToks CEO guaranteed that the info had not been being distributed to the Chinese government, and that it had been at the mercy of robust cybersecurity controls. However, given the Chinese governments extensive surveillance and censorship practices, it really is impossible to learn for sure what’s really happening with the info.

Some commentators also have pointed the remarkable difference when it comes to TikToks content in China (where TikTok is named Douyin) and in all of those other world. Allegedly, the app promotes engineering and maths in China, while making youth far away dependent on twerking and porn. Additionally, the Chinese version of TikTok implements stricter rules and prohibits deviant and anti-government discussions. For folks under 14 yrs . old, China limits the usage of the TikTok-equivalent to 40 minutes each day, and bans the app for these audiences between 10pm and 6am, with the purpose of inhibiting internet addiction. No similar measures against teen addiction were implemented far away, despite it being a known negative outcome of social media marketing use. Given these developments, the Buzzfeed News article remarked that:

There’s, however, another concern: that the soft power of the Chinese government could impact how ByteDance executives direct their American counterparts to regulate the levers of TikToks powerful FOR YOU PERSONALLY algorithm, which recommends videos to its a lot more than 1 billion users. Sen. Ted Cruz, for example, has called TikTok a Trojan horse the Chinese Communist Party may use to influence what Americans see, hear, and ultimately think.

TikTok is newer and far less scrutinized than Facebook and Google. We should follow up on what the discussion will undoubtedly be conducted within the FCC and possibly in europe, once the Digital Services Act (DSA) enters into force. For the present time, it isn’t clear what goes on with TikTok user data in China and when there is any kind of influence from the Chinese government on what the algorithm works.

The 3rd kind of privacy concern is regarding children and teenagers privacy. The initial problem is sharenting. It could be thought as the practice by way of a parent of care giver of online documenting moments in the life span of a kid or teenager. Parents which are using TikTok soon recognize that showing their kids in videos can generate great results with regards to likes and subscribers, therefore, for his or her next dopamine hit, they exchange their kids privacy for likes. You can find serious privacy and security issues involved with sharing anything in regards to a child or teenager online, including identity fraud, exposing the kid to predators and cyberbullying.

Addititionally there is the problem of insufficient consent, as children are occasionally too small to comprehend the proceedings, and even if they can understand and consent, they’re not consulted by the parent. It is therefore possible that, a couple of years from now, the kid will undoubtedly be unhappy to find that valuable private moments were shared on TikTok by the parent, perhaps in a sensationalized or embarrassing way, to match a trivial trend. Understand that we, the parents, are from the different generation, and what we find acceptable and cute, they could see as inexcusable and creepy. Lastly, whatever is uploaded online gets the potential to be circulating forever, since it takes only 1 screenshot or re-upload for that, aggravating the privacy risk.

Another issue is children and teenagers unintentional self-exposure to malicious individuals and predators online. Given TikToks extreme popularity with younger audiences, there must be stricter safeguards set up to avoid this kind of vulnerability and potential harm. Younger audiences also needs to be alerted that whatever they upload will undoubtedly be digitally available forever, and ill intentioned third parties could misuse it. Children and teenagers are frequent victims of cyber-bulling and abusive behavior, so additional safeguards ought to be distributed around protect their privacy.

I created a merchant account on TikTok with a sincere hope that there is space for informative content. I needed to talk about about my expertise privacy and data protection in a manner that was both entertaining and informative, where I’d entice discussion and provoke reflection, especially among young viewers. When reading about TikToks guidelines, I understood that when I wanted to attain meaningful audiences, I will be joining music/dance/challenge trends and adding popular soundtracks, hashtags, filters and effects to my videos. Most of all, I should spending some time in the app watching and mimicking the successful content of other creators in fields much like mine, in order that I possibly could teach TikToks algorithm to whom to push my content. My videos ought to be overly busy, short and impressive. They ought to ideally be between 15 seconds and 1 minute long and I will hook my viewer in the initial 3 seconds. These guidelines didn’t make any sense for me personally or for what I hoped to attain with my content. These were nothing like Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTubes guidelines, which leave a lot of space for thoughtful and critical content to flourish alone way. To possess my content viewed on TikTok, I’d need to be yet another engine in the addiction machine. This is simply not how I see myself or how I believe about creating and consuming content.

I’m an authentic person. I am certain there are adults having a great time, people making good money as influencers and brands doing their usual marketing on TikTok. People can decide for themselves what they need for his or her lives and I am hoping this article can provide useful information regarding the look tricks, algorithm twists and brain chemistry behind TikToks fascination. Informed consent is power.

I’m mostly worried about children and teenagers. Their values, character and world view remain in formation plus they are being frenetically pushed to take, create and overvalue content that’s very short, fast, trendy, mimicked, edited, filtered and designed to impress in 3 seconds. It really is content for TikToks growth and profit, rather than content for education. Teens also end up strongly trapped in the dopamine cycle which makes them crave likes and subscribers being pushed to trivialize their health and privacy if necessary for another dopamine hit and much more social validation among equally glued peers.

TikTok may be the epitome of the unregulated attention economy. It optimizes algorithm and design to fully capture not merely users attention, but additionally their time, personal data, brains and feelings. Having less scrutiny is indeed big they can take action freely, profiting from probably the most impressionable and sensitive audience: teenagers.

My hope, as a mother of 3 young kids, is that until my kids strat to get interested in internet sites, you will see a robin-hood whistleblower that in a tell-it-all style will convince lawmakers, privacy advocates and the general public opinion that it creates no sense. It really is unfair to utilize the best power of design and algorithms to control people and invade their privacy, especially younger generation.


Sooo want to hear your comments.

Best wishes, Luiza Jarovsky Lawyer & PhD candidate

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