TikTok announced today that it will provide select researchers with more transparency about its platform and moderation system. The company is developing a research API to improve access to public and anonymized data about content and activity on its app. TikTok says researchers currently don’t have an easy way to assess content or conduct tests on its platform. The company plans to make the API access available to select researchers later this year.
TikTok has also developed a moderation system API that it plans to make available this fall at its virtual Transparency and Accountability Center hub. The moderation system API will give select researchers a way to evaluate TikTok’s content moderation systems and examine existing content on the app. In addition, researchers will be able to upload their own content to see how different types of content are either permitted, rejected or passed to moderators for further evaluation.
TikTok will also give the independent experts on its U.S. Content Advisory Council API access, along with access to confidential information, such as its keyword lists, which are used to help detect and flag potentially violative content. TikTok says these changes will give the experts the ability to conduct deeper analyses. Lastly, TikTok will publish insights about the covert influence operations it identifies and removes from its platform globally in its quarterly Community Guidelines Enforcement Reports.
“These initiatives are well underway and will be launching over the coming months this year,” said Vanessa Pappas, the chief operating officer at TikTok, in a blog post. “We’ll update on our progress as we continue to innovate when it comes to being transparent and accountable.”
Today’s announcement comes as TikTok has been trying to prove that it’s not a national security threat due to its parent company’s connection to China. Gizmodo released a report earlier today indicating the ways TikTok aims to downplay its relationship with China. The report includes responses that TikTok’s public relations employees are asked to use when faced with questions about TikTok’s connection to China.
The new transparency commitments also follow the aftermath of a BuzzFeed News report that revealed TikTok staff in China had access to the company’s U.S. users’ data. At the same time, TikTok said it was moving U.S. users’ data to Oracle servers stored in the U.S. The BuzzFeed News report, which cites recordings from 80 TikTok internal meetings it obtained, claims that U.S. employees of TikTok repeatedly consulted with their colleagues in China to understand how U.S. user data flowed because they did not have the “permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own.”
In response to the report, numerous Republican senators wrote to TikTok to express concern about the company’s policies regarding data access. TikTok responded to the letter by admitting that some China-based employees have access to data “subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.” The company has attempted to reassure senators by noting that it’s working on a program called “Project Texas” to bolster data security for U.S.-based users.
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