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TikTok Faces New Legal Challenge Over its Tracking of Underage User Data

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tiktok faces new legal challenge over its tracking of underage user data
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Despite facing an array of challenges – which, at times, threatened the app’s very existence – TikTok has continued to grow in 2020, and looks set to become an even more important, and influential platform in the year ahead.

But while TikTok has seemingly avoided a ban in the US (for now), the app remains under scrutiny, due to concerns about its impact on young users, and international data security considerations, given its Chinese ownership. 

On the first point, TikTok is set to once again be examined over the ways in which it tracks and uses data from underage users as part of newly launched legal proceedings in the UK. 

As per Sky News UK:

“A 12-year-old girl from London, who cannot be identified, plans to bring a damages claim against six firms said to be responsible for TikTok and its “predecessor” app Musical.ly for “loss of control of personal data”. According to a High Court ruling published on Wednesday, the action alleges the firms have “misused the claimant’s private information and processed the claimant’s personal data” in breach of EU and UK data protection laws.”

The case is the latest of many that have brought against the app over the same concern:

  • In October, Pakistan’s Telecommunication Authority temporarily banned TikTok in the nation due to “immoral and indecent content” in the app, which was being made available to young users. TikTok implemented changes and the ban was lifted shortly after. 
  • In August, French officials announced a new investigation into TikTok’s data-gathering practices, primarily due to concerns around its measures to protect younger users.
  • In July 2019, the UK Information Commissioner launched an investigation into how TikTok handles the personal data of its young users, and whether it prioritizes the safety of children on its network. 
  • In February 2019, the FTC fined TikTok a record $5.7 million for illegally collecting the names, email addresses, pictures and locations of kids under age 13.  

TikTok’s measures to protect younger users are rightfully a key focus – according to internal data obtained by The New York Times, more than a third of the app’s daily users in the US are under 14 years of age. That’s despite the full TikTok experience technically only being made available to users over 13, though the app is available to people under that age threshold in what TikTok calls a “limited app experience“:

“TikTok for Younger Users introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for an audience that is under 13 years old. TikTok for Younger Users allows us to split users into age-appropriate TikTok environments, in line with FTC guidance for mixed audience apps. Users enter the appropriate app experience after passing through an age-gate when they register for a TikTok account.”

So the only thing stopping younger users from logging-on and accessing all TikTok has to offer is a fairly loose age-gate, which no doubt many are subverting. That could also mean that even more than a third of all US TikTok users are under 14, as its official data would be based on self-registered birth dates.

As such, the concerns around TikTok’s child protection efforts are valid, and it makes sense for authorities to be scrutinizing, and challenging the app. That only becomes more pressing as it continues to grow, and its influential capacity increases. And while TikTok’s overall focus is on fun, light-hearted short clips, there’s clearly a level of inherent exploitation within that framework, with young girls, in particular, incentivized to push the limits of what they share in order to garner more likes.

That concern is not isolated to TikTok, all social platforms need to manage such. But TikTok’s video focus, and young audience appeal, does seem to increase the risk in this respect. And while ideally these concerns could be addressed without legal challenge, it’s a critical element for the platform to manage.

As such, keeping the pressure on TikTok should help ensure it keeps working to provide more protection where possible.

As noted, the other lingering concern for TikTok is international data security, with China’s stringent cybersecurity laws technically dictating that parent company ByteDance would need to share data on TikTok users with the CCP on request. We don’t know whether any such request has been made, nor what the Chinese regime might do with the personal information available on ByteDance’s servers. But while the US Government’s attempts to force TikTok to sell into American ownership lacked the required evidence to gain clear passage, many other authorities have raised similar concerns, and that could still see TikTok face more scrutiny in 2021, which could impede its growth.

TikTok lost 200 million users within a day in late June, when the Indian Government banned it due to ongoing conflicts with the Chinese Government. The CCP has continued to bristle various nations as it pursues its interests, and that could result in further restrictions on Chinese apps, very quickly, if indeed tensions escalate. 

These are the key concerns for TikTok, as a platform, moving forward. The app has clearly shown that it can succeed, and become a challenger for the established social media players, and the capacity of its algorithm to tap into personal interests, and keep users glued to the app, is clearly significant. But until it can ensure the protection younger users, and appease data sharing concerns, queries will linger around the app.     

With billions of dollars on the line, it seems likely that TikTok, and ByteDance, will find solution. But this latest legal battle is another reminder that it won’t necessarily be clear sailing ahead for the latest big social app.

Socialmediatoday.com

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EU Officials Launch Investigation into TikTok Over Potential DSA Violations

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EU Officials Launch Investigation into TikTok Over Potential DSA Violations

EU officials are wasting no time enacting their new powers under the Digital Services Act (DSA), with the European Commission announcing a new investigation into whether TikTok is currently in violation of DSA rules in relation to the protection of minors in the app.

Concerns have actually been raised around TikTok’s compliance on several fronts, including systemic risks related to app addiction, its age verification processes, its security measures for minors, data transparency, and more.

As per the European Commission:

On the basis of the preliminary investigation conducted so far, including on the basis of an analysis of the risk assessment report sent by TikTok in September 2023, as well as TikTok’s replies to the Commission’s formal Requests for Information (on illegal contentprotection of minors, and data access), the Commission has decided to open formal proceedings against TikTok under the Digital Services Act.

It’s the second major probe under the new DSA laws, with X also currently under EU investigation over its efforts in restricting illegal content, and stopping the spread of misinformation in the app.

TikTok will now need to provide further information to EU investigators to assess its efforts, with a maximum penalty of up to 6% of its global earnings on the cards if it is found to be in violation.

Though that’s probably unlikely, given that the DSA also includes clauses that enable investigators to “accept any commitment made by TikTok to remedy on the matters subject to the proceeding”.

Given that the DSA has only recently been initiated, this will probably be the outcome of these early investigations, though EU officials may also want to send a strong message early, in order to underline the seriousness of the new rules.

Though there’s also this:

The duration of an in-depth investigation depends on several factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the company concerned cooperates with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.

So any investigation could carry on for some time, meaning we won’t know the outcome for a while yet. But again, potentially, TikTok could face big fines if it is found to be in breach, and it fails to take action to address any highlighted concerns.

It’ll be interesting to see how EU officials look to enact the regulations, and keep each platform in line with these more restrictive processes. That could get especially complex with the DSA, given the variable interpretations around what constitutes adequate action on certain fronts.

As such, these early cases could play a key role in establishing precedent, which could indeed see big fines coming, and could even force apps to reassess their operations in the region as a result.  

I mean, Meta has threatened that before, and depending on how EU officials approach these new laws, there could be further concerns on this front.

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Josh Brolin Summarizes Dune 2 in Greatest Instagram Caption of All Time

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Josh Brolin Summarizes Dune 2 in Greatest Instagram Caption of All Time

The Dune: Part Two star took a unique approach to marketing the movie. Dune: Part Two is so close to hitting theaters, and no one is more excited than …

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Reddit’s Exclusive Data Sharing Deal with an Unnamed AI Company Could Mark a Key Industry Shift

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Reddit’s Exclusive Data Sharing Deal with an Unnamed AI Company Could Mark a Key Industry Shift

Is Reddit’s actually data worth $60 million per year?

That’s reportedly how much an as-yet-unnamed AI development company has paid to gain exclusive access to Reddit’s full data set, which will see said AI company incorporate Reddit user responses into its large language model (LLM), with a view to the system providing more human-like answers and insight, and becoming a bigger challenger in online search.

As reported by Bloomberg, after working to restrict access to its data over the last year, in order to stop AI companies from profiting off its content, Reddit has now signed an exclusive contract with “an unnamed large AI company”, which will see that company integrate Reddit insights into its models.

Which is a high price tag, considering that the top tier of X’s API access (200 million posts per month) costs around $2.5 million per year.

So could Reddit’s data be worth significantly more than that, and if it is, does it then make sense for Reddit to provide such on an exclusive basis?

The value of Reddit data is that it provides actual, human usage insight, which can often be of more value than online reviews that can be gamed and skewed by paid responses. That’s getting even worse in the age of generative AI, with some companies now employing AI tools to create human-sounding reviews online, in order to boost their product ratings.

As a result, more and more people have been turning to Reddit to get honest product reviews and performance insight. They’re still using Google, but more people are using the “site:reddit.com” qualifier to glean more specific insights from Reddit communities.

For example, if you were looking for a new hair dryer, you can look up “best hair dryer” on Google to get this:

Or you can add “best hair dryer site:reddit.com” for this:

Google example

The Reddit forum links connect through to actual people’s experiences, and include solid, functional insight from those who’ve used each device. The Reddit responses are also up and downvoted, making it easier to find the best response to guide your search process.

The more specific, personal insight can add significant value to the answers provided, and many people have found that this is now a better, more valuable discovery process than trusting Google results within themselves.

And now, one AI company will get all of this insight exclusively to itself.

That could be a big boost to its business ambitions, with a view to making AI chatbots more of a rival for traditional search behavior. Already, more people are turning to conversational chatbots for online discovery, and with this, whichever LLM can access Reddit data will have an exclusive trove of valuable consumer insights, which it can repackage within its responses.

For example, using the same hair dryer prompt in ChatGPT, the system currently gives me a listing of technical considerations and recommendations based on top sellers. But with added Reddit commentary, it could also provide a more personalized addendum:

“According to users, the best hair dryer for curly hair is the Ella Bella Ionic hair dryer, while those with straight hair tend to prefer the Dyson Supersonic.”

The system could then provide more specific answers based on your requirements, by sourcing that info from subreddit communities.

It’s a significant value-add, which will make whichever company gets this info a far more viable option as a search consideration, though the $60 million per year ongoing price tag is high, and is also at least somewhat reliant on Reddit continuing to grow, in order to maximize its value and utility.

And Reddit is growing. Reddit’s added 20 million more users over the past three years, and it continues to see strong engagement in over 100,000 active communities. The company’s been working to highlight its business value, ahead of a planned IPO, which could come next month, and this deal will now be factored into the valuation of the platform moving forward.

In some ways, it’s possible that Reddit could be limiting its opportunities by signing an exclusive data contract. But that’s why the price tag is so high, and it’ll be interesting to see which chatbot comes out with “Reddit exclusive insights” as a value add sometime soon.

I mean, it seems likely that it’ll be OpenAI, with the backing of Microsoft, as it looks to take on Google’s Search dominance. With the rise of conversational searches, that does seem like a logical investment, and with another data source taken out of the mix, that could also lead to more differentiation in the market.

It could also point to similar exclusivity deals in future, as each company tries to differentiate and dominate with their chatbot tools. Current AI chatbots have been able to scrape vast amounts of data from across the web, which means that their initial models will all be relatively similar as a result, but in future, as information evolves, and new data is required to match search intent, fresh sources will also be required to maintain relevance, and audience interest.

Meta claims to have an advantage in this respect, because it has all of the insights published to Facebook and Instagram to work with, while Elon Musk will view xAI as holding a lead, due to his platform being the leading real-time news discussion app.

But maybe, considering broader trends, Reddit insight is actually the real leader in terms of refining search queries.

And maybe, that will prove to be more important than most think.  



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