TikTok is the cool kid on the social media block these days. It’s slicked back hair, leather jacket, and comb in back pocket make it the Fonz of the social media world.
But when you’re numero uno, there’s a big target painted on your back. After the latest iOS dropped, it appeared as if the game was up. TikTok was caught red-handed secretly spying on users – well, by spying, I mean copying the content of the clipboard.
There was uproar! (other) social media channels were outraged. We knew all along the Chinese were up to no good. Even I was outraged – and argued at length with Andy on the Host Unknown Podcast about why it was wrong.
A few days later it came to light that LinkedIn was also repeatedly copying the iOS clipboard. But that’s owned by Microsoft and we’ll ignore that.
Then, a couple of days ago, Instagram was caught by iOS turning on the users’ smartphone camera when they were just scrolling through the feed.
Of course, Facebook-owned Instagram quickly cleared the air.
“We only access your camera when you tell us to — for example, when you swipe from Feed to Camera. We found and are fixing a bug in iOS 14 Beta that mistakenly indicates that some people are using the camera when they aren’t,”Camera indicator panis users into believing Instagram is spying on them through their phones – Independent
And the world took a collective, “oh that sounds plausible” and moved on.
Things Are Heating up
But simply flinging accusations against TikTok, when you’re doing the same thing isn’t quite enough for some social media companies. Oh no, Facebook has seen TikTok’s lunch, and now it wants to eat it.
Instagram is launching its equivalent of TikTok in Reels, and according to some reports, Facebook is offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to lure Influencers from TikTok to Reels.
So the questions that come to mind are:
- Does TikTok give user data to the Chinese Government?
- Are Facebook / Instagram, LinkedIn any different from TikTok? They seem to share similar questionable practices, but are we ok with them because they give data to a different Government, or just use the data themselves?
- Is this really about TikTok’s privacy, or are these tactics so companies like Facebook can maintain their online dominance and stifle competition?
- Is it time to burn it all to the ground?
If you said it’s time to burn it all to the ground, congratulations! That was kind of my first thought. Actually, on a personal level, I’ve only now got LinkedIn and Twitter. And neither of those apps reside on my phone anymore. Which has actually made my life a lot better. But just because I’m a recovering social media addict, doesn’t mean that I don’t see some of the benefits it provides to its users – and simply burning it to the ground isn’t an option.
I don’t actually have any deep insight into what the right way forward may seem (I’m not Ben Thompson after all) – but I was quite surprised when, perhaps one of the most balanced, and best perspectives I saw was from TikTok itself:
believe all companies should disclose their algorithms, moderation policies, and data flows to regulators. We will not wait for regulation to come, but instead TikTok has taken the first step by launching a Transparency and Accountability Center for moderation and data practices. Experts can observe our moderation policies in real-time, as well as examine the actual code that drives our algorithms. This puts us a step ahead of the industry, and we encourage others to follow suit.Fair competition and transparency benefits us all – Newsroom | TikTok
Transparency, fairness, disclosing of how algorithms work… these are all quite profound ideas in social media. And maybe it is exactly what we need. Of course, as someone pointed out to me on Twitter, we need disclosure in a way that humans can comprehend them, without abstracting them to the point where the disclosure is useless.
We should also take a moment to appreciate the unsung hero in all of this. The new iOS 14 beta which has brought much of the shady / erroneous / buggy behaviour to light. If they don’t go with calling iOS 14 Columbo, I’ll be quite disappointed.