TikTok has announced plans to open a new Transparency and Accountability Center in Europe, based in Ireland, in response to a number of ongoing controversies and concerns about its internal practices. This follows a similar initiative launched in the United States.
As explained by TikTok:
“The Center will provide experts with an opportunity to visit and see first-hand how teams at TikTok go about the critically important work of securing our community’s safety, data, and privacy. Through this direct observation of our practices, experts will have an opportunity to learn about our moderation systems, processes, and policies.”
The new center will address specific concerns raised by EU regulators, some of whom have advocated for the app’s complete ban.
As previously mentioned, TikTok already has a Transparency and Accountability Center in Los Angeles, though its utility has been limited thus far due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Center will eventually be open to the public for anyone to come in and see how TikTok works, in order to alleviate concerns about the company’s processes. TikTok is also planning to open a similar facility in Washington, DC, to demonstrate the same to policymakers in order to avoid further regulation or restriction.
Last September, TikTok took a group of reporters around its LA office (via Zoom), providing a more in-depth look at its internal practices, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, adding a level of transparency lacking in the broader social media ‘black box’ approach.
And, of course, TikTok has faced more significant challenges on this front than most.
Due to ongoing concerns about its data collection practices and dubious moderation processes, the US government attempted to expel TikTok from the US last year, or force the app to be sold into US ownership, in order to avoid any potential ties to the Chinese government.
That effort repeatedly crumbled under legal scrutiny, but given TikTok’s Chinese ownership and China’s strict rules around accessing user data on demand, questions about how the app operates and what kinds of data it sends back to its home base remain.
TikTok, for its part, has stated that it does not and will not share international user data with the CCP, as well as responding to criticisms of its early moderation guidelines, which included some questionable exclusion and restriction processes in the app.
The company has made significant efforts to address these concerns, culminating in the formation of its Transparency and Accountability Center. TikTok has also faced potential restrictions in Europe, the location of this new planned facility, on a number of fronts.
The UK Information Commissioner, for example, launched an investigation into how TikTok handles the personal data of its young users, as well as whether it prioritizes the safety of children on its network, in 2019. In the same year, French officials announced an investigation into TikTok’s data-gathering practices, citing concerns about the company’s safeguards for younger users.
Following reports that a 10-year-old girl died after participating in a “blackout challenge” on the app, the app was completely blocked in Italy for a time last year. Users choked themselves in their clips during the challenge. TikTok is also being investigated by the European Commission for allegedly exposing young users to inappropriate content.
Given the various concerns, it makes sense for TikTok to set up a Europe-specific trust center – but will this address all of them and relieve regulatory pressure on the app?
Probably not, in the real world. The app’s potential, or perceived, ties to China’s secretive regime will almost certainly always be a point of contention, and it’s difficult to argue that it doesn’t expose young people to less savory web elements.
However, TikTok is attempting to be more transparent in its efforts, with the new Center aimed at demonstrating how it uses technology to keep users safe, how its content review teams decide what is shown and what is removed, and how it detects potential policy violations.
“The landscape we operate in is rapidly evolving and it’s our hope that visitors will be able to learn more about our work, but importantly, also provide candid feedback about what they see and hear. No system, policy, or practice is flawless, and we are committed to constant improvement.”
It’s a good idea, but there’s a risk that it’ll be seen as more of a publicity stunt than a useful overview. Although the location in Ireland may not be ideal, TikTok is working to be as open as possible as it expands around the world.
Source: Social Media Today